For some, Remembrance Day is filled with black and white photos of those who were lost in wars that were fought before most of us were even born. We salute the veterans with moments of silence and the sound of a lonely trumpet playing The Last Post.
But wars and conflict don’t live between the pages of history books and in fenced-off displays in museums. This year we saw the threat of war become a reality for so many in eastern Europe, as Ukrainians witnessed the Russian invasion of their country and their communities reduced to rubble.
As Canadians proudly wear their bright red poppies on their lapels this season, the flower represents both past and present conflicts raging across the world.
The atrocities in Ukraine are well documented, and the day-to-day realities of the conflict continue to play out on our screens with shocking and vivid detail.
Images of families fleeing, flattened buildings, burned-out vehicles and crumpled bridges are pouring out of the country. The cities are emptying and haunted by the few who have stayed, who have weathered the storm of invasion for more than eight months and are preparing to hunker down for a cold winter.
And as we witness these scenes from the comfort of our homes, as the first snow of the season blankets our quiet and peaceful city, we can reflect on the safety we often take for granted. Every November 11, we say ‘it can never happen again’, yet war continues.
Ukrainian civilians continue to pay the ultimate price, as some 5,587 have been confirmed dead, although tens of thousands of lives are estimated to have been lost. Another 9,000 Ukrainian military members have been confirmed dead, while as many as 25,000 Russian militia have been lost.
While the conflict might seem like a world away, more than 7.5 million Ukrainians have fled, taking refuge in other countries. While most have packed their bags and left for neighbouring countries, some have made the great trek overseas and landed in Canada. As of the end of June, there were around 190,000 Ukrainians with pending applications to come to Canada, and some of them have settled in St. Albert, becoming our friends and neighbours.
For many of us, war is an abstract concept. Most of us have not fought in one. Perhaps our grandparents or great grandparents served, but that’s a generation or two ago. Remembrance Day gives us the opportunity to reflect and be grateful for the peace and freedom we enjoy. It may sound cliché, but talk to those Ukrainians who have fled the violence in their homeland and have lost everything — their homes, their jobs, their possessions, and in some cases, their family and their friends.
We are eternally grateful to our veterans. We enjoy our way of life because of their sacrifices. Thankfully, we are able to extend our way of life to those who desperately seek it.