03/02/2014 10:22 EST | Updated 05/02/2014 05:59 EDT

Dozens in Vancouver gather to protest Russian occupation of Ukraine region

VANCOUVER - Dozens of protesters wearing the colours of the Ukrainian flag marched in Vancouver Sunday to voice their disapproval of Russia's military action in the eastern European country, where many said they have family and friends.

Demonstrators dressed in yellow and blue brandished signs comparing Russian President Vladimir Putin to Hitler as they made their way through downtown streets toward the Russian consulate.

Russia recently captured the Crimean Peninsula and Ukrainian authorities have put their military on high alert fearing a wider invasion while appealing for international help.

Many at the Vancouver rally said they had personal ties to the crisis.

Juri Jatskevich has friends and family in the Ukraine and said many of them are considering signing up for military duty if tensions continue to escalate.

"They are lining up to volunteer to defend their country," said Jatskevich. "They will defend their land against open military aggression from Russia."

Jatskevich said his family also took part in the months-long protests at Kyiv's Independence Square, which erupted last year after then-President Viktor Yanukovych pulled out of a trade deal with the European Union in favour of closer ties to Russia.

"My sister and her niece were on the second floor of the Trade Unions Building and they just were able to escape the building 30 minutes before the police set it on fire," he said.

Anastasia Fursa also knew many people involved in the Kyiv demonstrations.

Several were arrested by police in Independence Square, she said. "A lot of them were beaten, a lot of them were tortured," she said.

The Vancouver protest came after thousands of Russians reportedly marched in pro-invasion demonstrations in Moscow on Sunday.

It's a fact not lost on Alina Kalimina, whose parents helped protesters in Kiev.

"I know they don't respect Ukrainians," Kalimina said of pro-occupation demonstrators in Russia. "They don't respect us as much as we respect them."