Ukrainian Canadians spread aid, kindness this holiday season amid Russia’s war

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Ukrainian Canadians and their allies are finding ways to spread kindness to people in war-torn Ukraine ahead of this holiday season amidst Russia’s illegal invasion of the country.

With the holiday season right across the corner as Russia’s war on Ukraine approaches the 10-month mark, Ukrainians are facing a harsh winter caused by Russian attacks on the country’s energy system.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this month criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin for his “energy terrorism,” leaving many parts of Ukraine with no heat, water and electricity.

The ongoing war has caused many Ukrainians to decide not to celebrate this year’s Christmas — even not to celebrate anything, Olga Lastovetska, a Ukrainian Canadian who is also an online fitness trainer in Toronto, told Global News.

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“Our hearts are broken for what is happening there and our families are there,” said Lastovetska. “Everybody’s so occupied with the war. There’s not much time that is going into planning the celebrations.”

Traditionally, Ukrainians begin celebrating their Christmas on Jan. 6, known as Orthodox Christmas Eve. In recent years, it’s become more popular in Ukraine to celebrate on Dec. 25 as well.

While Ukrainian Canadians are able to celebrate the holiday in a safe environment, many have decided to support those who remain in Ukraine and Ukrainian newcomers to Canada.

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Lastovetska said she and her community in Ontario have been gathering supplies such as winter clothes, diapers, baby formula, hygiene products and non-perishable food for Ukrainians in an effort to “bring that Christmas spirit to Ukraine,” adding they don’t belong to any organizations but are just “a group of people that have decided to help.”

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“We have gathered a lot of gifts, candies and a lot of amazing things to show children in Ukraine that there’s hope and we are with them,” said Lastovetska.

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Soon, all the items will be on board a flight to Ukraine for those in need, she said.

Elena Khvostova, the director of Vancouver-based non-profit Ukraine Harmony Foundation, said the organization has been planning fundraisers for 200 orphaned children in the city of Dnipro in Ukraine to receive presents.

She said there will also be an event for children who are Ukrainian newcomers in Vancouver to celebrate the holiday featuring traditional practices.

Khvostova said the goal is to brighten up the children’s day “even if it’s just for a few hours.”

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The gifts and party would be “some kind of a distraction from the war” for Ukrainian kids, said Khvostova, adding that many are also struggling with their new life in Canada due to language and cultural differences.

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“The kids should not be going through all of it, but unfortunately, one country has decided that they should,” said Khvostova. “If we can make them feel better for at least a few hours, it’s really a win for us.”

Khvostova said a sixth wave of displaced Ukrainians will be entering Canada after February 2023 and she urged Canadians to give them a helping hand.

“Any kind of generosity that can be extended to the Ukrainian folks, not just during the Christmas time but just on a daily basis, will be a fantastic thing to do,” she said.

In October, a group of Canadian, American and European volunteers came together and created the Christmas Gifts for Ukraine project with a goal to “bring hope” to Ukrainian children with toys, gifts and children’s books.

What started as an initiative for children has now become a project to provide necessities to Ukrainians of all ages as “the humanitarian needs have changed” over time, said Peggy Aumuller, one of the founding members of Christmas Gifts for Ukraine.

“I realized the scope is much larger and I hope to provide life-saving clothing, warmth, we’re working to try and get the generator into an orphanage,” she said. “We’re still providing gifts, but we’re also working much harder to supply things that are necessities to life.

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“It’s getting colder there and things are getting more desperate,” said Aumuller, who flew to Warsaw to work with local charity AIDUA as the team prepares to begin their distribution process between Nov. 30 and Dec. 10.

“The children are the future,” she continued. “As a teacher, I strongly believe this and these children need to know that people care.”

Camrose, Alta.-based Aumuller, who is not of Ukrainian descent herself, said people “don’t have to be of Ukrainian blood” to care about what has been happening in the country.

“We’ve got (a lot of people here) in Canada,” she said. “If everybody donated $10, think of the immense amount of good we could do.”

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