SUNDRE — Faith is at the heart of what inspires and motivates members of the Humanitarian Aid Response Team (HART) to provide assistance to those most in need.
So, when the Russian military invaded the Ukraine near the end of February, the non-profit organization run by a volunteer board of directors was quick to respond by reaching out to find grassroots churches in the war-stricken country to determine how best to deliver assistance.
It’s that philosophical approach of seeking out like-minded groups to get done the important work of helping others that originally compelled Marc Sardachuck to get involved with HART.
A part-time area resident who has attended the Bergen Missionary Church for about five years and plans to alongside his wife eventually retire nearby, Sardachuck has since late in the summer of 2018 served the organization as a board director. But he and his family have been supporters of HART for more than 10 years, having previously worked with the group on an effort to provide oversight for a children’s home and school in western Ukraine near his father’s birthplace.
Sardachuk was joined on Saturday, June 18 by Lloyd Cenaiko, HART’s co-founder and executive director, who with colleague Kostya Voloshyn, the director of HART’S Ukrainian affiliate, spoke to a few dozen people at the Bergen Missionary Church about the continuing relief efforts underway in Ukraine and how people can help.
“I thought the evening went very well,” said Sardachuk. “From the singing of our national anthem, to acknowledging how fortunate we are being in a country free from war, to addressing the plight of refugees in Ukraine and how HART is making a difference by providing relief aid through their many partnerships with Ukrainian churches.”
Conflict hits close to home
With family roots reaching back to the Ukraine, the ongoing conflict that currently seems to have no end in sight struck Sardachuk close to home.
His family were among the countless many torn apart by Nazi Germany’s aspirations for conquest during the chaotic turmoil, destruction and death unleashed by Hitler upon Europe and the world.
His father’s parents, who at the time had relatives in Ukraine, were unable to escape when Stalin’s Red Army turned the tide against the German war machine and began reclaiming territory on their unstoppable march to Berlin.
“They didn’t make it when the Russians took Ukraine from the Germans during the war,” he said.
The other half of the family stream managed to flee from the relentless Russian advance and eventually relocated to Poland.
“They got out by the skin of their teeth,” he said.
When the war finally ended in 1945, that branch of the family already had relatives in Canada who had left prior to the global conflict’s onset. So, through a sponsorship courtesy of family already in Canada, they ended up in Winnipeg.
“That’s where my dad met my mom, and why I’m here,” he said with a chuckle.
But it also left behind many other relatives who weren’t as fortunate.
“They were locked behind the Iron Curtain,” he said. “It’s not unlike a lot of stories I’ve heard about that timeframe, where people were just either killed or shipped off to Siberia, or you’re fortunate enough to make it to the West.”
Working in tandem with teams in Ukraine
Decades later, his father Edmund "Ed" Sardachuk embarked on a number of trips to Ukraine following his grandfather’s death, and before long the family periodically went over to get involved in philanthropic endeavours, including the initial founding of the school and children’s home in the early 2000s. That project has since been passed into the hands of a church local to the area, he said.
“And in that process, we just heard about this organization called HART,” said Sardachuk, adding he met Cenaiko during a trip to the Ukraine.
“We were very impressed with his model,” said Sardachuk, referring to Cenaiko’s tendency to work in tandem with Ukrainian churches rather than sending in missionary teams from North America.
“His model is basically team up with missionary church organizations in Ukraine to do various works.”
During the June 18 presentation at the Bergen church, those attending heard that HART endeavours to among many other supports:
- provide humanitarian aid trucks, food packages and clean water as well as shelter for refugees;
- offer financial aid for churches that are serving refugees;
- send weekly semi-truck shipments of food from Poland into the conflict zones where grocery stores no longer exist;
- purchase vehicles in Poland for delivery to Ukraine to be used to distribute relief as well as evacuate civilians to safer areas away from war zones;
- and buy ambulances from Poland and Germany that can also double as mobile medical clinics that can be deployed daily with crews equipped with body armour and helmets.
“I think we should all be grieving for what’s happening in the Ukraine,” said Sardachuk.
Regardless of the politics or narrative one subscribes to, “it’s the people that are being totally abused,” he said.
“It’s unconscionable what’s happening to some of them, particularly in the east where the fighting is the strongest,” he said, adding Russian president Vladimir Putin should have “known better.”
So perhaps more than ever, Sardachuk remains not only committed to supporting HART, but especially firm in his belief that Christianity offers an answer that demonstrates that a more moral future – as opposed to a dog-eat-dog, everyone-for-themselves dystopia – is possible.
“There’s a faith-based aspect to all of what HART does,” he said. “But again, they do a lot of humanitarian relief type of work.”
Lending a helping hand to those in need comes part and parcel with that faith, he said.
“To be truly working out your faith, you have to show that through actions – it’s how you care for people, how you love people…you have to put legs to it.”
Organization runs lean
Over the span of the several months since Russia invaded Ukraine, HART has raised roughly $2 million. Courtesy of matching donations, the event in Bergen brought in about $35,000, he said.
“We had a huge outpouring of giving and some matching funds as soon as the war started,” he said, adding about $1.9 million has been allocated to the refugee crisis, which includes expenses on food, vehicles and first aid.
The organization runs without much overhead and has four, full-time staff in Calgary as well as a part-time employee, he said, adding that donations on average incur an approximately five per cent administrative fee.
“They run very lean,” he said.
Visit www.hart.ca for more information about the organization or to make a donation.