Canadians rushed to provide war-torn Ukraine with material aid on Friday, selling donuts to raise money, offering furniture to future refugees, and trying to purchase military equipment for veterans on the front lines, as Russia continued its invasion of the country.
After a day of protest, attention turned to the difficult task of giving a beleaguered nation the help its government was seeking, in ways large and small. The Ukrainian military took the dramatic step of asking international supporters for cash donations, while Canada’s federal government offered to match individual contributions to the Canadian Red Cross.
In British Columbia, a 28-old veteran of Ukraine’s eight-year conflict with Russia is trying to raise funds to provide non-lethal support, such as medical supplies, body armour, helmets, and radio communication devices to Ukrainian soldiers. Denis Polishchuk, in co-operation with Maple Hope Foundation – a group that has been helping Ukrainian veterans and their families since 2014 – had raised more than $11,000 by Friday afternoon, he said.
The modern fight for Ukraine’s sovereignty stretches back almost a decade and some Canadian community groups have been on war footing since then, helping them respond to the current crisis. The League of Ukrainian Canadians and the League of Ukrainian Canadian Women established the Friends of Ukraine Defence Forces fund in 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea. Since then, the campaign has raised $2.5-million, and support swelled Thursday after Russia escalated its offensive.
“There was definitely a huge surge in donations,” Nadia Gereliouk, the managing director of the LUC, said. “It was insane.”
The cash is earmarked for items like body armour, medical supplies, vehicles, electronics, hygiene products and spiritual materials. The fund has also provided cash to families of fallen soldiers, helped soldiers going through rehabilitation programs, and served as seed money for training therapy dogs.
Two more groups, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Canada-Ukraine Foundation, teamed up at the end of January to launch a fundraising drive called the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. The pair has collected $2.4-million of its $5-million goal, according to the tally on CUF’s website.
Yaroslav Broda, vice-president of UCC’s Edmonton branch, said the fund is an important channel for donations. He said informal efforts by dance groups, choirs, and other cultural networks have been working to raise awareness about Russia’s years-long aggression in Ukraine with the broader community. “I’m still kind of surprised how little some people know,” he said, noting Ukraine is size of Alberta and hosts 45 million people.
The Russian invasion has also caught some humanitarian and diasporic groups by surprise, and delivering support from afar to a country in chaos is proving to be fraught. At Future Bakery in Toronto, owner Borys Wrzesnewskyj spent the day taking stock of the unfolding disaster in his ancestral country and trying to funnel organizing efforts toward useful, secure channels.
If the Ukrainian government falls, observed the former MP for Etobicoke Centre, donations could end up in the hands of Russian forces. Ukraine’s military is “the last line of defence before the horrors, the real horrors begin,” he said. But “we need to make sure that all of that good will is translated to the most effective way to help the people of Ukraine during this horrific war and this existential threat to their survival as a state and as a people.”
In the weeks and months to come, Canada is well placed to receive a likely influx of refugees from a country where thousands are already fleeing, said Mr. Wrzesnewskyj. “We have the capacity to help with that process,” he said. “The Ukrainian-Canadian community has a very large infrastructure right across the country, in every city: churches, community, schools. … There’s even a Ukrainian fisherman organization.”
Nadiya Kovalenko, co-president of Ukrainian students’ club at the University of Toronto, said her group is planning to launch a fundraising campaign in the next few days. Ms. Kovalenko said although some other groups are advocating funding military aid, her group has focused on providing funds for food, clothing and supplies. “We think it’s important because their supplies won’t last forever,” Ms. Kovalenko said.
Ms. Kovalenko was born in Ukraine and came to Canada about a decade ago. She says she has friends and family caught in the conflict. “My childhood friends are still there. Seeing the bombing, the destruction, it’s just horrifying. None of us thought it would escalate like this.”
Michaela Yarmol-Matusiak, a second-year student at the University of Western Ontario and an executive with the Ukrainian Canadian Students’ Union, said students at postsecondary institutions across the country have been trying to organize rallies and raise funds to address the crisis in Ukraine.
There are a little over 1,000 Ukrainian international students in Canada, and the federal government has said it will extend their student visas so they aren’t forced to return to a conflict zone.
In the Prairies, home to many of the 1.4 million Canadians with Ukrainian ancestry – the largest such community outside of Russia and Ukraine – ordinary people launched grassroots efforts to raise money with baked goods and crafts.
On Wednesday evening, right as she was getting ready for bed, Zoya Kostetsky heard that the war had begun in her home country of Ukraine. Thursday morning, she woke up and decided that she needed to raise money to help.
The owner of a Manitoba-based homemade jewelry company, Prairie Clay, she said she knew she had a decent following on her Instagram account, so she put a call out.
By Friday, 200 local businesses had donated prizes to her raffles, and she has raised over $10,000 to send to four different Ukraine organizations. “The number just keeps going up and up,” she says. “I have just been so blown away by people’s support.”
In Saskatoon, Keith Jorgenson, owner of Nestor’s Bakery, is doing a fundraiser of his own. His grandparents are first-generation Ukrainians, and his bakery has been proudly owned by Ukrainian-Canadians for the past 93 years.
His bakery is selling donuts decorated with the Ukrainian flag at $20 a box. Within 30 minutes he received more than 130 orders of the donuts.
He estimates the sale will raise between $5,000 and $10,000, which will go to the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation.
With reports from Xiao Xu, Kathryn Helmore and The Canadian Press
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