INNISFAIL – Donations have been pouring in to relief organizations across Canada and Alberta to support Ukraine since Feb. 24 when Russian president Vladimir Putin declared a "special military operation” against the eastern European nation.
To date, more than 2.3 million Ukrainians have fled their country. Cities have been battered non-stop with missiles. Hundreds are feared dead.
The global community has been united in condemning the sheer brutality of Russia’s aggression.
Most importantly, support for Ukraine’s 44 million beleaguered citizens has been increasing. The Alberta government has so far announced $6 million for humanitarian aid.
The Rotary Club of Innisfail decided on March 3 to make a $1,000 donation to the Canadian Red Cross for the ongoing Ukrainian humanitarian effort.
“We had heard they would match certain amounts of donations so we thought we would get a better donation by doing it through them,” said Tammy Thompson, president of the local Rotary club. “Their efforts in the past have been great for these kinds of causes and we wanted to be part of that.”
On March 4, Innisfail’s Bilton Welding and Manufacturing Ltd. announced a $5,000 donation to the Canada-Ukraine Foundation, an organization that has partnered with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) to establish the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.
Standing humbly behind the scenes at Bilton is Yan Omelyanchuk, a 29-year-old project manager, who came to Canada 10 years ago with his family, including his parents, from western Ukraine. They were all looking ahead for a better life.
While he’s now a Canadian citizen, Omelyanchuk’s heart still beats passionately for Ukraine. Since his arrival to Canada, he has gone back to visit friends and family. But then came Putin’s "special military operation.
“It’s tough going but they are holding up. Most of my family is in a relatively safe area right now but they are constantly on edge. It’s not knowing what might happen,” he said. “It’s very hard to be away from Ukraine and you’re almost limited by what you can do. There are a lot of Ukrainians and even Canadians who would like to help but feel helpless.”
But Omelyanchuk knew he had to do something. He concedes it crossed his mind to go back to Ukraine after war broke out.
However, Omelyanchuk and his family decided to connect with other Ukrainian-Canadians in Red Deer. They have shared their concerns and ideas on how they can best support Ukraine during its time of ultimate trial.
The family attended rallies in Red Deer. They assisted a humanitarian effort by Ukrainian business owners from Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer and area to collect donations and send an emergency aid package that was filled with medical items and first aid kits.
In three days, nearly 10,000 kilograms of supplies were collected, with a small part shipped last weekend.
“This is way more than people initially planned and this is kind of an evolving campaign and the logistics of it now is the biggest thing,” said Omelyanchuk, adding that while local and regional donation collecting has taken a short pause, he’s urging citizens to consider donating immediately to the Ukraine-Canada Foundation, or the many other organizations providing humanitarian aid.
“We have collected more than we expected and now we are trying to sort what is of most need.”
Gratitude for support
“I have been moved by the amount of support shown by my co-workers, which basically kicked the work campaign off,” said Omelyanchuk, adding his co-workers have generously provided donations and are still asking what other ways they can provide support. He’s also grateful for the overwhelming response to the plight of Ukraine that has come from across Canada and the global community.
“It definitely gives hope and boosts morale for the people of Ukraine, and strengthens their already robust resolve,” said Omelyanchuk. “The least people can do is be vocal about the cause and show their support, and even that is helping, spreading awareness of the situation.
“(Support) certainly is inspiring but let’s not romanticize it. People are suffering and there’s no need for that.”
Omelyanchuk said he wants the war to end as quickly as possible. He finds it difficult to talk about due to the thousands of Ukrainians who are already displaced and have lost their lives.
However, Omelyanchuk said he does not want the horror of the war and all its tragedies to become “normalized” in the every day thinking of people who are now gripped and supportive but who may allow themselves to slowly commit to other less emotionally taxing issues.
“The more this goes on the more people get used to it. I sometimes catch myself thinking that you lose comprehension of what is actually happening. It is really important to really think about what’s happening and how you’re gauging the situation,” said Omelyanchuk.
“Everybody can help in different ways and at some point, everybody needs to choose which way they will help.”
Anyone wanting to donate funds for Ukraine humanitarian support can look to the following organizations:
• UNICEF Canada at www.secure.unicef.ca
• Canada-Ukraine Foundation at www.cufoundation.ca
• Doctors Without Borders/MSF Canada at https://action.msf.ca/site
• Canadian Red Cross at https://donate.redcross.ca
• Plan International at https://plancanada.ca
• Save the Children Canada at https://donate.savethechildren.ca
• World Vision Canada at www.wvi.org
• Samaritan’s Purse Canada at www.samaritanspurse.ca/ukraine-response
• Veterinarians Without Borders (for pets and animals) at www.vetswithoutborders.ca