When calls come from Ukraine looking for help, these 3 St. John's women pick up the phone

·5 min read
Adilya Dragan, left, and Anna Moiseinko — originally from Russia and Ukraine, respectively, have been fundraising and collecting donations to send to Ukraine. (Caroline Hillier/CBC - image credit)
Adilya Dragan, left, and Anna Moiseinko — originally from Russia and Ukraine, respectively, have been fundraising and collecting donations to send to Ukraine. (Caroline Hillier/CBC - image credit)
Caroline Hillier/CBC
Caroline Hillier/CBC

Anna Milingi recently woke up to a 4 a.m. call from Ukraine. A school-turned-shelter had been bombed and children were injured. Volunteers called Milingi, in St. John's, to help find anesthesia and medication.

Milingi and her friends Anna Moiseinko and Adilya Dragan have been collecting money and humanitarian aid — like diapers for orphanages, medical supplies for hospitals and binoculars for the Ukrainian military — and shipping them directly to Ukraine.

Within a few hours of that desperate phone call, the three had collected $2,500 and connected with a volunteer in Hungary who bought the medication and got it to the hospital in Ukraine a couple of days later.

Pointing to a photo on her phone of a young girl with her arm in a cast, Moiseinko tears up when she explains how overwhelming the community support is.

"We are the only connection between Ukraine and these people and they trusted us with their hard-earned money.… They trusted us with their finances so that girl could be in less pain," said Moiseinko.

Submitted by Anna Milingi
Submitted by Anna Milingi

Moiseinko wishes the money could be spent on "happy" things, but medical supplies are badly needed in the country, weeks into an invasion by Russian military forces.

"This is something that goes not towards something fun like crafts for the kids but it goes for something to stop the pain or stop the bleeding or replace the blood or replace the iron in their blood," said Moiseinko.

The group is looking for medical supplies, hygiene items, food and other donations to ship to Ukraine.

They're using their Facebook page, Humanitarian Aid Newfoundland to Ukraine, to keep organized and facilitate donations, which can be dropped off at Lakecrest Independent School in St. John's from Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Family and friends in Ukraine

Milingi and Moiseinko both have immediate family and close friends in Ukraine — some who will soon be arriving in St. John's.

Submitted by Anna Milingi
Submitted by Anna Milingi

Milingi's best friend, who is a master's degree graduate, and her one-year-old son, and Moiseinko's sister, a physician, and her two children all fled the war. They've been washing their only two pairs of socks in a sink, sleeping on couches and standing in lineups to obtain travel documents ever since.

Both left their husbands behind in Ukraine.

"Can you imagine making a choice between your kid or your husband?" said Moiseinko.

"All men who stay behind will be called to war. They will be called to war and there's a very slight chance they'll come out alive so when you leave the country with your kid, you make a choice: it's your child that's going to live and not your husband."

Expensive flights

While the provincial government is in Poland recruiting refugees and organizing flights for some Ukrainians, Milingi, Dragan and Moiseinko used their own money and community donations to pay for the tickets, which cost nearly $10,000.

"What the people of Newfoundland and Labrador keep doing for us is something that is way above my understanding," said Moiseinko.

"I never knew that someone could be so kind to someone they've never met before."

Moiseinko — who blames the war for her recent gray hair, bald spots and tremors and shakes — says the three are emotionally drained but will continue to help.

Submitted by Anna Milingi
Submitted by Anna Milingi

Scholarships, but no housing for Ukrainian students

The group is now searching for housing and other necessities for five Ukrainian students who have scholarships to finish their master's degrees at Memorial University.

The students haven't asked for much — their main request is for five warm jackets.

"Someone is going to the Bahamas because COVID finally lifted the restrictions and someone is asking for a warm jacket?" said Milingi. "It's unbelievable that in the 21st century, a person just needs a jacket to be warm."

Milingi had plans to visit Ukraine this year.

"I understand realistically my parents will never be able to see their granddaughter."

Micheal Holden, who works in tourism, started a Facebook group to connect Ukrainians with housing.

Caroline Hillier/CBC
Caroline Hillier/CBC

He hopes the province can help Ukrainians — between 5,000 to 10,000 of them — and help solve the province's demographic crisis.

"We could easily absorb that number and you know, put them everywhere," said Holden.

"I can see lots of Ukrainians going all across the island portion of the province and Labrador and settling down"

Many of the Ukrainians on the site had never heard of Newfoundland and Labrador until they received a brochure about the province in Poland.

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

"Most of them have received it from the embassy in Warsaw, so they come to these groups to say, 'OK, who can answer these questions about health care or housing or lifestyle?"

Finding meaningful employment

After Wanda Cuff-Young, vice-president of operations at international recruiting agency Work Global Canada, posted her email address to the group, she instantly received a dozen resumés.

"Nurses, IT people, engineers, lecturers, marketing … they come from a very diverse background."

Many of the available jobs in Newfoundland and Labrador are in the food service industry, hospitality and health care, but Cuff-Young is hopeful she can match all Ukrainians with a job.

Licensed professionals — like the lawyers who sent resumés — will find it difficult to find jobs in their profession, but Cuff-Young says there are opportunities to find meaningful employment in their field.

Caroline Hillier/CBC
Caroline Hillier/CBC

She acknowledges the challenges — like housing, transportation and child care — but says if the community, government and individuals work together, this could be a history-making moment for Newfoundland and Labrador.

"This could really help our economy," said Cuff-Young. "New people bring new business, new ideas."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador