One year after Russian invasion of Ukraine, newcomers count on the community’s help to settle in Canada

It’s been a year since Russian forces invaded the sovereign nation of Ukraine, but the needs of the people in a country torn by the war will be around for many years to come.

Families have been torn apart, thousands have lost their lives and it’s created a growing humanitarian crisis throughout the year. The effects of the invasion continue to be felt here in Niagara.

Run out of Beamsville, the Friends of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine (FOMCU) work with the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine and send donations to individuals living in former Mennonite villages in southern Ukraine.

Prior to the war, funds raised by the organization bought a school bus so children in rural areas could get to school, funded alternative sports programs to discourage youth from getting involved with alcohol and drugs, funded doctors to provide drop-in sessions, provided fuel for winter and helped seniors with the cost of medicine.

Following the Russian invasion, donations to FOMCU increased. By the end of 2022, they had raised $2.5 million compared to $460,000 in 2021.

However, FOMCU’s Lincoln-based treasurer, George Dyck, said they're experiencing “donor fatigue,” which he said is inevitable at the start of the year.

“Year-end is always when donors think about tax receipts, and so there is an upward trend at that time,” he said.

According to the non-profit, after the deadly earthquake in Turkey and Syria, donor attention has “understandably been drawn towards” those countries.

Last year, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), a non-profit based in Niagara, started a “Help Boutique,” which collects donations for displaced Ukrainians who moved to Canada.

UCC’s president, Irene Newton, said some of the most-needed items are grocery store gift cards and small appliances, such as water kettles, pots, pans and coffee makers. Hygiene products, diapers and baby food are also welcomed.

The organization also assists newcomers with housing and locating jobs. In January, UCC received a $4,693 donation from the Vietnamese community based in Niagara Falls. Funds were raised during Lunar New Year’s celebrations.

“We understand the hardships these people are going through, as we were once refugees ourselves,” said Vietnamese community organizer Chung Din. “Nothing gives us more pleasure than helping our own community when they needed it the most.”

Alina Kovtun, 24, fled Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, three months after the war started.

“One year ago, my life unexpectedly was turned upside down.”

Kovtun got a job as a settlement counsellor for Ukrainian newcomers at the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre and appreciates the centre for its supportive working environment and the services and help it provides.

After learning about housing, documents and finding a job in Canada, Kovtun said she was glad to help other Ukrainians who had recently arrived in Canada.

“My job is the privilege for me to serve people passing through this terrible time,” Kovtun said. “We all hope the war will end soon and peace will come. “

To mark the one-year anniversary, Niagara Regional chair Jim Bradley said the last year has been a lesson in what courage, tenacity and bravery looks like in practice.

“Over the last year, we have watched as the Ukrainian people have banded together to defend their home from violent and senseless attacks on military and civilian targets alike. We have been inspired to watch Ukrainian men and women stand in defiance to the Russian invasion, holding the line and going on the offensive when appropriate,” he said. “It has been a sobering reminder that we should never take our peace for granted.”

Bradley said it has been moving to see the Ukrainian community take action to support friends and family who are residing overseas.

“As I have since this started, I continue to stand with the Ukrainian people both here in Niagara and abroad,” he said.

— With files from Chris Pickles

Beatriz Baleeiro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News