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Rosthern, Sask., group on mission of kindness to help displaced Ukrainian families

Rosthern's Ukrainian Displaced Families Committee and Ukrainian refugee Oksana Malezhyk, fourth from right, wait for a Ukrainian soldier and expectant mother to arrive at Saskatoon International Airport in 2022. Linda Rudachyk is sitting on the far right end of the group.  (Rosthern's Ukrainian Displaced Families Committee - image credit)
Rosthern's Ukrainian Displaced Families Committee and Ukrainian refugee Oksana Malezhyk, fourth from right, wait for a Ukrainian soldier and expectant mother to arrive at Saskatoon International Airport in 2022. Linda Rudachyk is sitting on the far right end of the group. (Rosthern's Ukrainian Displaced Families Committee - image credit)

Linda Rudachyk's Ukrainian identity and culture are very important to her. All four of her grandparents immigrated to Canada in 1913, and she has raised her own family to value their Ukrainian roots.

So when the war in Ukraine broke out in February 2022, Rudachyk felt overwhelmed by how many people there were in need.

"When the war started it really, really hit me hard. I just can't understand that atrocity. And my sister and I actually thought, what can we do?" Rudachyk said.

The sisters started off small but mighty. They mobilized people in the community of Rosthern, Sask. — 65 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon — to sell their art and other homemade items online about a month after the war began.

They raised more than $30,000 within two weeks from people all across Canada and donated the money to the charity NASHI, which helps at-risk young girls in Ukraine. They also donated to the Mennonite Central Committee's Ukraine relief initiative.

This holiday season CBC's virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories is taking readers to three different towns and cities for stories of kindness. Next Stop, Rosthern.
This holiday season CBC's virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories is taking readers to three different towns and cities for stories of kindness. Next Stop, Rosthern.

This holiday season CBC's virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories is taking readers to three different towns and cities for stories of kindness. Next Stop, Rosthern. (CBC)

Rudachyk then formed a committee, which she chaired, called the Ukrainian Displaced Families Committee in April 2022. It was time for part two of her mission.

"You watch people on TV, and Ukrainian people are clamouring to get out [of the country]. So we went the next step and formed this committee who are just earth angels. And then we began to explore, OK, how do we get somebody here?"

First, they needed more money. The committee approached business, organizations and other benefactors in the community for donations. Word soon got around.

It just didn't matter where I went. People would just stop on the street and ask what they could do to help. And that just got bigger and bigger.
- Linda Rudachyk

"It just didn't matter where I went. People would just stop on the street and ask what they could do to help. And that just got bigger and bigger," Rudachyk said.

Once they had enough money, the committee applied through the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) to welcome families to Rosthern. But there was one problem.

"It's a huge problem, huge problem everywhere. But here there is absolutely no rental property. There is just simply nothing, ever."

Pavlo Malezhyk of Ukraine calls Linda Rudachyk (pictured) his family's "Ukrainian mama."
Pavlo Malezhyk of Ukraine calls Linda Rudachyk (pictured) his family's "Ukrainian mama."

Pavlo Malezhyk of Ukraine calls Linda Rudachyk, pictured, his family's 'Ukrainian mama.' (Linda Rudachyk/Facebook)

Rudachyk said Saskatchewan Housing is always full. But eventually the province announced that displaced Ukrainians would get housing priority.

"It was just like a miracle of God we had the manager of housing on our committee and he said, 'I think a family house is going to be vacated here.'"

Getting ready for the Malezhyks

Rudachyk said a three-bedroom house with a yard and a basement was soon available. Then things went into warp speed.

"Then through UCC, I got an email from a dad [in Ukraine]. They had six children and therefore he could go out of the country because if you have less than three children, you're going to be conscripted."

The committee had one week's notice. Pavlo and Oksana Malezhyk were about to fly to Saskatchewan.

Rudachyk said Oksana had grabbed a map of Canada and randomly pointed her finger to a spot. Her finger landed on Prince Albert, Sask. The UCC suggested they go a little further south to Rosthern.

Luckily, Rudachyk said the committee had beyond enough volunteers to prepare for the family's arrival.

"Within one week they had this house completely redone. Everything from a broken fence. It became a beautiful house. There were people working day and night and then getting furniture to furnish this house."

Pavlo and Oksana Malezhyk and five of their children stand in front of their new home in Rosthern in May 2022. Linda Rudachyk is pictured on the far left.
Pavlo and Oksana Malezhyk and five of their children stand in front of their new home in Rosthern in May 2022. Linda Rudachyk is pictured on the far left.

Pavlo and Oksana Malezhyk and five of their children stand in front of their new home in Rosthern in May 2022. Linda Rudachyk is pictured on the far left. (Rosthern Ukrainian Displaced Families Committee )

On the day of the family's arrival, the Ukrainian Displaced Families Committee waited excitedly for them at the airport.

"It was just the most emotional time. They get off the airplane and we have this home ready for them."

Pavlo, Oksana and the five children they had with them were overwhelmed by the warm greeting.

It's the first time in our life and the only time we were met with such support from the people. It's not like this in Eastern Europe ... Like Linda, she's like our Canadian mama.
- Pavlo Malezhyk

"It's the first time in our life and the only time we were met with such support from the people. It's not like this in Eastern Europe, generally. But here people are very open people. Like Linda, she's like our Canadian mama," said Pavlo.

At first, Oksana did not speak a word of English. That would be a shock to anyone who speaks to her now.

"I'm very, very well. It's not easy the first time, very hard. But people [are] very open and very friendly. And every day we have someone who comes in our home who gives some food, meat or who [helps me] learn English," Oksana said.

Six-year-old Rymma and 10-year-old Sofiia Malezhyk take part in Ukrainian dancing in their new community of Rosthern. (Joyanne Dufour)

Rudachyk and Rosthern's Ukrainian Displaced Families Committee didn't stop with the Malezhyk family. In August they helped a young, 34-week-pregnant soldier move to Rosthern from Ukraine. CBC has agreed not to name her due to safety concerns.

The baby arrived in September.

"We somehow found a Ukrainian-speaking obstetrician in Saskatoon. We were there with her. And now her little [baby] is like our baby," said Rudachyk.

In the past year, Rosthern's Ukrainian Displaced Families Committee has continued to raise thousands of dollars for displaced Ukrainian families. They even sold four gallons of homemade borsht to people in Calgary for a combined $600 dollars.

Meanwhile, the Malezhyk's say their children are thriving in Rosthern and the family is happy. They don't plan on returning to Ukraine and consider Rosthern to be their home now.

"When I call Ukraine, I say we have all [that] we need and more. We can help other people from Ukraine because this community gives us all," Oksana said.

CBC Saskatchewan is just one of many local CBC stations across the country that is highlighting community resilience and generosity as we make the season kind.

Help us, help the Food Banks of Saskatchewan reach their goal of $1 million raised. Financial contributions allow food banks to better respond to those in need. To date, thanks to our listeners and viewers, we have raised over $2 million for the Food Banks of Saskatchewan.

To give, please visit www.cbc.ca/bekindsk

(CBC)