It was a sombre day last Friday (Feb. 24), as it marked one year since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Hosting Ukrainians in Fort Saskatchewan (HUFS) held a vigil at Pioneer House to honour all Ukrainians for their bravery.

The vigil featured speeches from Mayor Gale Katchur, MP Garnett Genuis, and even former premier Ed Stelmach. 

"Many of the organizations like HUFS took it upon themselves before governments organized," said Stelmach. 

"[HUFS] came up with various programs to reach out to charitable organizations, support newcomers, and also to support the unbelievable humanitarian need in Ukraine." 

After the speeches, HUFS invited Nataliia Bereziuk on stage. Bereziuk, who fled Ukraine from the war, shared her story.

"I'm just one of the millions of Ukrainians whose life was dramatically changed a year ago when Russia invaded Ukraine," said Bereziuk. "On that day my family woke up because of the bomb blasts."

"I clearly recall packing my suitcases, grabbing my kids, and leaving my apartment in Kyiv. Since then, I haven't seen my beloved city. I haven't seen my home. Is it possible to pack your whole life in just one suitcase?"

As a symbol of her life before the invasion, Bereziuk brought her Ukrainian flag with her to Canada.

"I couldn't leave my home without this thing. This flag has witnessed a lot of events, like UEFA Euro 2012 and the Eurovision song contest 2017," said Bereziuk. "It was on the streets during the Revolution of Dignity in 2014. This flag also hangs on our windows on Independence Day."

Bereziuk had two messages to send during her emotional speech. The first was directed at her fellow evacuees.

"Dear Ukrainian friends, this flag is a symbol of hope and faith in Ukrainian victory. Be brave, be strong, believe in your country, believe in your people, believe in your brave army. They fight for independence, for freedom, and for you."

Her other message was directed toward Canadian citizens and the host families in Fort Saskatchewan.

"I want to express our deepest gratitude to you. You were here for us in the scariest and hardest times of our lives. May God bless you, thank you from all Ukrainians."

"I believe that with Ukrainian flags alongside Canadian and Alberta flags, we will rise above our new homes."