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Ukrainian newcomers find support from Parksville Qualicum Beach community

St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Church becomes a point of contact for new arrivals
St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been a point of contact for Ukrainian newcomers to the PQB area. (Submitted photo)

Ukrainian newcomers to the Parksville Qualicum Beach area have found plenty of the support from the community.

When Maryna (last name withheld) arrived in Canada with her daughter five months ago, she was thankful and surprised with the level of support they found. They left their home city of Chernihiv, in the country’s north, near the borders with Russia and Belarus.

“My city suffers a lot, from the first day of the war,” she said. “It was really awful. We were out of water, heat, without everything and even cell connection was blocked.”

Maryna and her daughter flew to Kiev, then eventually made it to Poland, where they prepared documents for a Canadian visa. She was able to find a host family in the PQB area using the Help Ukraine: Vancouver Island website. Maryna said she was attracted to B.C. because of its reputation as a technology hub.

With support from the community, she was able to adjust to life in Canada, find a remote job in her field (software testing) and secure permanent housing.

St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been a point of contact for her and other new arrivals, connecting them with resources and people who can help. Maryna was introduced to the church by her host family.

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Not long after the Russian invasion, the church organized a vigil and were amazed when 300 people came out and raised nearly $2,000, according to Colleen Sokyrka, president of the parish.

“Once we had people coming to our area, Nanaimo, Parksville, Qualicum, we wanted to start collecting money and doing something for the people that were here,” she said.

The church has been helping collect community donations for both Ukraine and for Ukrainians recently arrived on the Island. It has supported organizations such as the Canada-Ukraine Foundation, which supports seniors and mothers with children, and Mama Moya, which helps mothers whose husbands have gone to war or are otherwise alone.

Sokyrka said initially they received many donations of clothes and other goods, when not many Ukrainians had yet arrived. Now there are more families in the area and donations are still needed. People can help by contacting Help Ukraine VI on Facebook.

“The community has not forgotten, which is wonderful,” Sokyrka said. “They can continue to support us.”

There are also many people who donate, but do not wish to be recognized, according to Joy Lockhart, parish communications and treasurer.

She pointed to a woman, who did not want to be named, who raffled off two gift baskets at a Qualicum Beach store, with the baskets raising $1,650 together.

“There’s a whole host of people that are doing this,” Lockhart said. “People on their own are being really generous. We have a wonderful benefactor, a doctor from Alberta, and every few months he would send us $1,000.”

One way people have donated anonymously is using the website Canada Helps.

A local painting group, known as the Other Group of Seven, decided they wanted to help. They originally planned to auction off some of their artwork, but it did not work as planned.

Member Liz Andrusiak contacted Sokyrka and the two decided they would set up the artwork for silent auction during a church Takeout Pierogi Night, and then at Thalassa Restaurant in Qualicum Beach, raising $1,000.

Andrusiak said she was upset about the invasion and felt she needed to help, so she painted a war scene.

“I knew I had to put it out there somewhere, to do something for Ukraine,”, she said. “So that’s when I told my Other Group of Seven that I was doing this and they all offered to do something too.”

St. Mary the Protectress parishioners are working on an initiative, with Help Ukraine VI, to make sure Ukrainian newcomers receive a welcome basket. The baskets are less about the contents and more about letting them know there is support, if they need it, Lockhart said.

“We just want to make contact with people and we want to be able to support them anyway they can,” she said. “Then if they run into any problem,s they can call us and we can help them to navigate.”

Though Maryna and her young daughter are happy in their new home, they worry for friends and family in Ukraine, where air raid sirens have become a familiar occurence.

Maryna is especially concerned for family members living in a high-rise apartment building in Kiev, without a basement or shelter to access during a raid.

“They don’t have much time to hide somewhere,” she said. “There is no safe place in Ukraine.”

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Liz Andrusiak, along with the rest of the Other Group of Seven painting group, raised funds for Ukrainian newcomers via a silent art auction. (Submitted photo)

Kevin Forsyth

About the Author: Kevin Forsyth

As a lifelong learner, I enjoy experiencing new cultures and traveled around the world before making Vancouver Island my home.
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