Two young men who recently fled the war in Ukraine to find a better life in Winnipeg were victims of a violent attack at The Forks district on Canada Day, according to a couple who came to their aid.
"It's something I've never experienced in my life before — something you see on TV. And when you see it in person, it's just absolutely shocking," Julya Zan said in an interview with CBC on Sunday.
The Forks, a 22-hectare site in downtown Winnipeg, located at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, is billed as a destination and meeting place and is widely frequented by tourists.
Zan, 26, and her husband, Jorge Torres, 32, were out driving with a friend around 10:30 p.m. Friday when they came across the immediate aftermath of the attack, which she said left a 22-year-old man with a stab wound in his neck and his 23-year-old friend hit by pepper spray.
Torres said the stabbed man was walking in the street, holding his neck, and saw he was bleeding.
"He was screaming out that he needs help. Like, 'I need help. I need help,' said Torres.
Zan called 911 as they got out of their car.
The knife was still stuck in the man's neck, Torres said.
Winnipeg police and The Forks officials have confirmed that one man was stabbed and another pepper-sprayed. Police have said little else about the attack and have not announced if any arrests had been made.
They said Saturday that the Major Crimes unit was still investigating.
The incident marked the latest in a series of violent crimes at The Forks over a few days' time.
Police said a father and daughter were attacked in a parking lot in an attempted robbery on June 27, and two men were stabbed outside the main market building early June 29. In May, a man died after being stabbed in a parkade on the grounds.
On Friday night, Zan, who came to Canada from Ukraine in 2010, was able to translate, as neither man spoke much English.
"I'm just telling him like, breathe, … trying to get him to keep talking," said Torres. "He's like, 'I'm going to die … I'm dying.' That's what he's saying. And he's pretty much laying in a pool of his blood at this point."
Torres said they were told the men had been crossing the street when they brushed shoulders with three males. When the Ukrainian men turned to apologize, they were attacked and the assailants ran off, Torres said.
Zan, Torres and their friend happened upon them about a minute later, Torres estimates.
Tried to calm victim
While waiting for paramedics to arrive, Torres said they learned the men were refugees, had only been in Canada for two weeks and, on Canada Day, moved into their downtown Winnipeg apartment.
Zan said their focus was trying to keep the stabbed man calm — while trying to stay calm as well.
"But in the back of our heads, at the same time, we're like, this guy could die right now, right here, and there's nothing we can do," she said. "So I just tried my best to just tell him to calm down, that everything's going to be OK. Try to be positive."
Paramedics soon after and rushed the stabbed man to hospital, Zan said.
Men want to leave downtown
Zan said she and the man's friend visited him in hospital early Saturday morning. He told her he was "feeling fine," she said. "I think it's a bit of a miracle in my mind," she said.
The first thing they wanted to know, Zan said, was whether they should stay in Winnipeg.
They asked her where they should go, and what area is safe, Zan recalled. She told them she'd take them around different areas of the city — but they want out of downtown and potentially want to go to another province, she said.
"So it's very unfortunate."