Filmmakers shine light on WWI internment of Ukrainian Canadians

Filmmakers shine light on WWI internment of Ukrainian Canadians

The internment of Ukrainian Canadians during the First World War is a little known part of Canada’s history and now Saskatchewan filmmakers are unveiling it with the movie “Enemy Aliens.”

Ukrainian Canadians faced pain, heartbreak, and devastation during WWI. Many were rounded up – along with other East Europeans – and put in internment camps across Canada.

Les Lazaruk, who is the play-by-play voice of the Saskatoon Blades, was the narrator for a preliminary read of the film’s script. As a fourth generation Ukrainian Canadian, he said the film means a great deal to him.

“This particular thing was not known to me. This was a real slap upside the face, learning there was internment camps,” he explained.

Lazaruk said many families like his have focused on the positive parts of their history, and remain quiet about the darkest parts.

But Saskatchewan filmmakers said it’s time to shed light on the camps.

“It’s a fictional story that deals with the backdrop of Canada’s first national internment operations. So before 1914 and 1920, over 8,000 people were wrongfully imprisoned in Canada under the War Measures Act,” said the film’s producer Ryan Boyko, who grew up in Saskatoon.

The production recently enlisted the help of the University of Saskatchewan Ukrainian Students Association, hosting a preliminary read of the script with professional actors.

The film takes historical events from 24 internment camps, and weaves them into a story of adventure, betrayal, love and hope.

“What I’ve gotta say about the story is it’s historically approved,” said Anthony Towstego, who is also helping to produce the movie.

“And that’s important, because the things that take place in this movie, and this screenplay, the average citizen would not believe happened in this country,” explained Towstego.

The film follows two brothers who leave Ukraine for the promise of a better life in Canada, only to be swept up in the politics of the war.

“It’s the largest feature film I’ve ever been involved in,” Towstego said.

Production of the film is set to begin next year.

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