Feeling helpless over Ukrainian invasion, a P.E.I. woman helps 'the way I know how'

·3 min read
Vanessa MacKinnon volunteered on March 25 for Casa lui Patrocle, an animal rescue organization in Siret, a small Romanian town that borders Ukraine. (Submitted by Vanessa MacKinnon - image credit)
Vanessa MacKinnon volunteered on March 25 for Casa lui Patrocle, an animal rescue organization in Siret, a small Romanian town that borders Ukraine. (Submitted by Vanessa MacKinnon - image credit)

Islander Vanessa MacKinnon recalls arriving in Romania on March 18, almost a month after the Russian invasion started. She made her way to Siret, a small Romanian town that borders Ukraine, to assist Ukrainian refugees.

"I really wanted to do something to help," she said. "I had lived and worked in Ukraine before, and so I felt this connection to Ukraine."

At the end of March, MacKinnon returned to her teaching job at a Charlottetown language school, but kept thinking about what more she could do to help.

Starting this month, she will be hosting free group English classes to help Ukrainians on the Island — especially those who recently arrived.

"If we meet once or twice a week in a park outside, it could be a really pleasant experience for them to meet some new people, to enjoy P.E.I., to learn English. So basically, I just wanted to help in some way," she said.

Thinh Nguyen/CBC
Thinh Nguyen/CBC

'If I were a fighter, I would fight'

It's been three months since her time at the Romania-Ukraine border, but MacKinnon said the images of what she saw there are still on her mind — Ukrainians crossing the border in a hurry with their dogs curled up in shopping bags, or someone fleeing with their cat walking alongside on a leash made from torn fabrics.

The scene was so different from what she had experienced when teaching English in Ukraine five years ago, MacKinnon said.

"When I lived there, I saw a country that was looking forward to the future, that was modernizing, that was peaceful with good people looking forward with positive outlook."

MacKinnon said she found that aid agencies at the border were more organized than she had imagined.

She volunteered for Casa lui Patrocle, a Romanian animal rescue organization that set up a tent there to provide supplies and documentation for pets.

However she found there wasn't much she could do to help on site, MacKinnon said.

"I didn't have that many skills. I was able to help a little bit but really I was lacking the medical skills, the military skills, the intelligence skills, that type of thing, that they needed," she said.

"I didn't feel I could contribute on site there. So I thought what can I do? One thing that I can do is teach English."

Back on P.E.I., she has recently posted about her offer of free English language classes, and five people already signed up.

Submitted by Vanessa MacKinnon
Submitted by Vanessa MacKinnon

MacKinnon has been learning Ukrainian for about two months, so during these classes, if students don't understand something, she said she will try her best to explain in basic Ukrainian.

"If I were a fighter, I would fight," she said. "This is what I know how to do, is teaching English."

MacKinnon is encouraging Islanders to think about how they personally can help Ukrainians and Ukraine.

"If you think about what can you do, you can probably think of something you yourself can do to help in some small way. Obviously, it's not going to change the world because we're not the political leaders," she said.

"But each individual has some way that they can contribute even if it's a small way and help the people who are in such a difficult situation."

MacKinnon's free English classes will start on June 16 and are open to Ukrainians aged 15 and up. Those who want to join can email MacKinnon.

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