This Halifax group is helping Ukrainians furnish their new lives

·4 min read
A Ukrainian family picks out furniture for a family they will be hosting, while a van driven by volunteers waits to transport the furniture to the couple's home.  (Jeorge Sadi/CBC - image credit)
A Ukrainian family picks out furniture for a family they will be hosting, while a van driven by volunteers waits to transport the furniture to the couple's home. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC - image credit)

When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Rick Langille wanted to help in any way he could, even though he was a long way from the conflict.

When he heard Ukrainian refugees would be coming to Nova Scotia, he and his wife, Sheila, started collecting donated furniture.

In the weeks to follow, their work grew into something much bigger.

"We put the word out and we've been flooded with kindness and we've been flooded with donations — more than we can store, more than we can pick up, more than we can handle," said Langille, who lives in East Hants.

Langille now has five storage units in Halifax which are paid for by donations. The Lions Club has been a major contributor.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

The units are filled with everything from furniture to clothing to children's toys. Langille accepts anything household related, as long it is in good condition.

"Everything that we have has been from local donors," he said. "Throughout the province, we've had donors as far away as the [Annapolis] Valley and Truro."

The Langilles couldn't handle it on their own, so volunteers stepped up to help them run the distribution and move the furniture from place to place.

"It's just humans helping humans," Langille said.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

Ukrainian families or their hosts can book a time to pick up all the items they need. The group holds a pickup day every week, and multiple families pull up to load their vehicles.

Anna Zherdetska is one of the volunteers. Since fleeing her home in Kyiv and coming to Nova Scotia, she wants to help others who are in a similar situation.

"I'm very grateful that Canadians are very kind and they help us a lot ... Rick and his wife, Sheila, met us at the airport, they helped us to find a place," Zherdetska said. "I want to help because when I receive good, I need to give back this good."

Zherdetska said it's a sad situation for any refugee who has to "start their life from zero," but the work Langille and the other volunteers are doing can help the transition.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

Langille said aside from Ukrainians, many of the volunteers are from local churches. But he has also worked with people from the Russian community.

Anna Vetrova moved to Canada two years ago from St. Petersburg, Russia. She acts as a translator to help Ukrainians navigate the process of collecting their new belongings.

"I think it's important for the community to feel united in the good cause," Vetrova said. "Maybe to overcome the differences we have and to focus on ... what a difference we can make just helping people."

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

But one problem is threatening the work the group does.

Langille said the group has been told they can no longer hold their weekly gatherings for families coming to pick up some goods. He said the storage unit company, Metro Self Storage, told him it was an insurance issue.

So the group is looking for a new home base.

"Either a warehouse or a vacant store, a vacant office, building, school, church," Langille said. "Anything that allows us to essentially drive up and unload and load without having to negotiate stairs."

Storage company looking for a solution

In a statement to CBC News, Bruce Shannon, the vice-president of Metro Self Storage, said the company is "fully supportive of the cause" and provided Langille "units with charitable discounts."

Shannon said "the challenge we face is that our facilities are not set up for tenants to run events out of their units," but the company is trying to "work out a solution for all parties involved."

Langille said anyone who wants to offer a new storage location can get in touch via the Facebook group Atlantic Canada Hosts for Ukrainians, which now has more than 8000 members from Canada and Ukraine.

He said his group has already helped more than 30 families, but they are gearing up to help even more, since a charter flight of more than 300 Ukrainians is arriving in Halifax next week.

"Right now, we've been distributing, but our big focus right now is stockpiling because we know that the need is going to become much greater," Langille said.

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