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Ukrainian group says including Russia at Heritage days would send 'a disturbing message'

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Members of the Ukrainian community are asking that Russia be excluded from the 2023 Edmonton Heritage Festival.

Friday, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Alberta Provincial Council (UCC-APC) said in a press release that it's concerned about the inclusion of Russia while the county is engaged in "flagrant violations of international law."

"Allowing the Russian community to partake in the festival without acknowledging the atrocities committed by their government is a disservice to the victims of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and sends a disturbing message that the festival supports or condones such actions," the release read.

Orysia Boychuk, UCC-APC president, said the Ukraine pavilion has approached the Edmonton Heritage Festival Association twice since March about the Russia pavilion's participation.

"They have indicated that no final decision has been made, and that it will occur [in the] middle of June," she added. "So we're extremely concerned about this whole situation."

Boychuk said excluding Russia this year would be in line with the decision by the International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festival and Folks Art to suspend the memberships of Russia and Belarus.

"It's really hard to understand where they're coming from and why they would be willing to support the pavilion this year," Boychuk said. "It really would violate the values and the principals of the Edmonton Heritage Festival."

Organizers of the Russia pavilion decided not to attend the 2022 festival in-person, but the country did participate virtually and said at the time it hoped to return in 2023.

Boychuk said that decision was dignified and showed respect, and the Ukrainian community understands not all people with Russian heritage support the war.

"They have come forward and they have expressed that, and they have attended our rallies," she added. "And we appreciate that."

However, given Russia's violations of international law and amid accusations of war crimes in Ukraine, Boychuk said it's not an appropriate time to celebrate the country.

"I think there are ways that the Russian community can participate and that is to show their solidarity," she said. "But to showcase their culture and be proud of their culture at this particular time, it makes it very challenging for our community."

On Monday, Edmonton Heritage Festival Association said the board is meeting with key stakeholders to discuss the matter, and a decision will be announced "within the next few weeks."

"We respectfully acknowledge the real concerns expressed by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Alberta Provincial Council," the board wrote in a statement. "We are committed to ensuring a safe festival environment for our pavilions, staff and volunteers, and the public."

The Russian Heritage Cultural Development Association said an application has been submitted to participate in the festival but the group did not want to comment at this stage.

"We’d be happy to discuss our participation later, once we finalize everything on our end," a representative told CTV News Edmonton on Monday. 

The Edmonton Heritage Festival will run Aug. 5 to 7 at the Edmonton Exhibition Lands.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Dave Mitchell 

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