Petrolia veterans to hold vigil for Ukraine

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Supporters in the crowd at a Sarnia vigil last Sunday

The Petrolia Legion is holding a vigil for Ukraine Sunday to stand with the embattled country and to help Lambton residents process the horror they’re watching real time.

It’s been seven days since Russia invaded Ukraine. Citizens have fought along side the Ukrainian Army to try to fend off one of the world’s largest military powers. So far, Russian troops not gained control of Ukraine’s capital, Kiev.

The war in Europe has mobilized the international community which has levied sanctions which have crippled the Russian economy and sent weapons and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

All of it has played out on computers and TV screens around the world. Vigils have also been held around the world and close to home since the invasion.

Legion Member Alex Billings is behind the Petrolia vigil. The veteran, who served in the air movement squadron at Trenton for over six years, says people who have served in the military can help others process what’s going on.

“As a Legion, we have a lot of veterans who are in a very special spot to offer support to what they’re going through that people normally wouldn’t have access to,” says Billings. “So, by opening up our doors and saying ‘we’re here for you if you need to talk about what’s going on – if the images on TV are upsetting – we have members that have been through it.’

“Obviously, the majority of the focus is on the Ukrainian side, but there’s a lot of people in Russia that don’t agree with this. There’s a lot of people even in the community that have no ties to either country that find images like this upsetting,” Billings adds.

For Billings and his family, it is also personal. His in-laws live in Ukraine.

“We heard from a week ago that they were leaving for Poland and that’s the last we’ve heard. We know that they’re okay, they just can’t communicate with us at the moment because of circumstances. But you know, as a veteran who’s seen the effects of what a natural disaster and what a war can do to a country for years afterwards, it’s hard to sit here and not be able to do anything.”

Sunday’s vigil will be at 1 pm in the Legion parking lot. Billings hopes it will be a community building moment. “We need to get back to being there for each other; I think the pandemic kind of closed a lot of us off from each other,” he says.

“We can come together again, we can be here for each other, we can support each other and we can be stronger as a community as a whole if we stand with each other.”