By Charlie Senack
It was a royal affair in Westboro when the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall came to visit.
On May 18, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla visited the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Assumption of the Blessed Virgin on Byron Avenue as part of their three-day tour of Canada.
It was Charles’ 19th visit to Canada and the fifth for Camilla. They were last here in 2017 to celebrate Canada 150.
During their one-day visit to Ottawa in May, the royals shined light on important locally-led initiatives. Charles and Camilla had the opportunity to meet over 100 local Ukrainians, many of whom are helping family members and friends back in their homeland, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.
Cassian Soltykevych, national secretary of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said the visit gave them an opportunity to share their message with the world.
“For them to take some time out of their busy schedules to meet with our community was very generous of them,” he said. “It was an honour for our community to meet with them and give them a sampling of what our Ukrainian-Canadian community does here and to help Ukraine.”
The royals arrived at the Ukrainian Church just before noon after stopping to greet large crowds at the National War Monument downtown. They pulled up to the cathedral in a large motorcade of black vehicles, with about a dozen or so RCMP detail positioned nearby. Charles and Camilla both wore blue along with matching sunflower pins—a sign of solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
Outside the cathedral, about 100 local residents gathered to see the prince and duchess.
The future king and queen walked up the steps and into the church, where they attended a service. Afterwards, they went into the downstairs banquet hall to meet members of the local Ukrainian community, and Camilla reportedly tried her hand at pierogi making.
Despite running behind schedule, the royals took time after their formal engagement to shake hands with everyone gathered outside to see them before heading to the ByWard Market and then an elementary school in Vanier.
Father Taras Kinash, the church’s new priest who fled to Canada from Ukraine just before Easter, said he told Charles and Camilla that Ukrainians would never forget the support the British people have shown them, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson who visited the country in the midst of bombings.
“It was unbelievable. There was a feeling of gratefulness to God that we have such good and strong relations between Ukraine, Canada and Great Britain,” Father Kinash told Kitchissippi Times. “This is a very symbolic sign. We got to talk and shake hands with our future king. This is a worldwide event, and, for our community, it was a great opportunity to host Prince Charles and Camilla, who specifically requested to meet with the Ukrainian community and church.”
The royal visit attracted worldwide media to Ottawa’s west end, showcasing the efforts the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral has taken part in since war erupted.
Just days after war was declared, the church’s hall became ground zero for local humanitarian aid activities. They collected food, supplies and hosted fundraising events to raise money.
The church first received word of a possible special VIP visit about two months ago, when officials from Heritage Canada inquired about their hall. It didn’t seem out of the ordinary because the space is used for various functions. Soon after, they were told special guests would be stopping by, but weren’t told who they would be. The planning stage was intense and had to be kept confidential.
Kinash said he admired how approachable the royals were, saying it felt like an everyday conversation.
“They were so happy, they were so relaxed, and my first impression was they were just so nice and outgoing,” he said. “They spoke with us, smiled—they wanted to spend time with us. Yes, there was protocol, but it went very smoothly and very fluently.”
Prince Charles was aware of Kinash’s journey to Canada, and the battle it took to get here, Kinash said.
The local priest was born in the Lviv region of Ukraine, but moved to Kyiv, the country’s capital, after meeting his wife. There he became a priest, operating a congregation until an opportunity arose to come to Canada late last year. The Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Assumption of the Blessed Virgin was left without a priest after their previous priest died suddenly last year.
Then war broke out, making the long journey to Ottawa even more difficult. Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 aren’t allowed to leave the country: instead, they were called to stay and fight.
But the Westboro Ukrainian congregation made a case for Kinash, and soon after, he was given the documentation to leave Ukraine with his wife and two-year-old daughter. The journey took three days, driving through Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, Austria and then Germany, where they were able to board a plane.
The decision was a difficult one for Kinash, whose family and friends are now a world away, in a country under siege. Kinash said it’s in Ukrainians’ blood to fight for their country, but he’s now realizing that can be done in various ways.
“It’s a great opportunity for my family and me,” he said. “But it’s not like ‘oh I am safe and I am thankful. I don’t need to hear those airplanes and bombings anymore.’ It’s my country. But I am thankful for this opportunity because I can be really helpful to Ukraine from here. As we saw from this royal visit, the main message was peace. Peace can only come with a victory.”
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