Alberta students get face time with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke with post-secondary students across Canada through a virtual video call Wednesday morning as Russia's invasion of the eastern European country neared its fourth month.

The event was organized by the Ukrainian embassy in Canada and the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy.

Students at 10 universities across the country, including the University of Calgary and University of Alberta in Edmonton, gathered to hear a speech from the Ukrainian president, who then answered questions.

In his opening remarks, Zelenskyy compared Ukraine’s fight to that of the underdog Toronto Raptors basketball team who won the NBA Championship in 2019.

"We are prepared to surprise the world," he told the students. "This is when you win when no one is expecting you to win, by bringing together and uniting you do things that seem to be impossible."

Illia Yankovy was amongst the University of Calgary students attending Wednesday morning’s livestream event. He’s been in Calgary for a couple of years, but worries about the safety of his father fighting for the Ukrainian army back home. 

"It’s so hard, but we are keeping our morale high, just hoping we will solve this problem, that we will end this war. We’re just trying to find some money to support our fighters and our families," Yonkovy said.

"I really liked when my president compared himself in his speech today to ordinary Ukrainian people because so many Ukrainians are making really brave courageous actions and we’ve been able to see that in the media for months."

Other students like Faith Moghaddami, who studies nursing at the University of Calgary, were lucky enough to be able to ask Zelenskyy a question during the livestream.

She asked the Ukrainian president how social media has changed the world’s perception of the war.

"He (Zelenskyy) shared that social media is a really powerful tool and he highlighted a lot of the dangers of misinformation," said Moghaddami.

"I think when you’re younger, you tend to think that you don’t tend to have a lot of power and you have to wait until you’re an adult to create change, but I think students were just empowered by having this conversation today and there will be a lot of really positive activity that comes from this."

Zelenskyy went on to discuss how Canadian university students can support his war-torn country in its fight for survival against Russian forces. He noted that his country needs weapons, financial and humanitarian support as well as increased sanction pressures. 

"Everyone needs to becomes wary of war, so your actions on social media, in communication with friends, or in rallies are important in supporting Ukraine," said Zelenskyy.

"Please do not allow anyone somewhere on the hierarchy of bureaucracy to forget about what's going on in Ukraine or to forget about war, please don't become tired because of the war and with the Ukrainian war. This is something that we need from you."

The majority of the fighting in Ukraine is now to the south in the Donbas region, which is seeing some of the most intense ground fighting in Europe since the Second World War.

Since Russia launched its invasion in late February, thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed.

The virtual discussion ran from 7:15 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. MDT and was live-streamed on the Munk School's YouTube channel

With files from ReutersThe virtual discussion runs from 7:15 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. MDT. It will be streamed live on the Munk School's YouTube channel

- With files from Reuters