Many Ukrainians, including thousands in London, marked a bittersweet Orthodox Easter holiday on Sunday. Several area residents gathered at London’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity to celebrate the holiest period on the Orthodox Christian calendar amid the Russian invasion of their home country. More than five million people, mainly women and children, have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded two months ago. Reporter Calvi Leon spoke to attendees about family members who remain in the besieged country and some of their efforts to support them.
“We immigrated here five years ago. My wife and me both have family in the west part of Ukraine. My parents live near an airport and it was (hit by) strikes two times,” Maksym Schevchuck said, standing outside the church entrance with his wife and children during the service.
His father cannot leave the country — a requirement under Ukraine’s martial law — and his mother doesn’t want to leave him. “Same with my brother's wife, so they decided to stay,” he said.
Schevchuck said he tries to communicate with them each day. Asked how he feels about his family staying there, he said: “I have concerns that I cannot go (to Ukraine) and protect my family because I have family here.”
“My (mom, sister and two nieces) left Ukraine two weeks after the war started and are with relatives in Spain right now, waiting for their visas,” said Iuliia Dovzhenko, who’s lived in Goderich the last five years.
Dovzhenko, alongside her husband and children, is preparing to host their family but is unsure when they'll arrive and how long they will stay in Canada. “Who knows how long,” she said. “My sister has a three-month-old baby and no husband."
On top of searching for more permanent housing options for her family, Dovzhenko has been busy collecting donations from residents in Huron County.
“I started collecting donations in Goderich and was delivering them to the London Ukrainian Centre,” where items were then shipped to Ukraine. “It was only a week, but then, I was overwhelmed with donations and found another (shipping) organization.
“My husband and I hired a truck moving company. It was a 53-foot truck. Volunteers in Goderich filled it, and we sent it over to Toronto (for shipping)."
“I have family near Kyiv, in the Odesa region, and near Moldova,” Lily Hopcroft said. “My one cousin is still in Odesa with her mother. Her daughter and her son and their families have fled Bulgaria and are safe there for the time being.”
Hopcroft and her husband, Grant, said the daughter’s family had just started their visa application to enter Canada. “We'll be looking after them, and we've got great friends who are offering their services like food (and) they'll bring groceries.”
Standing outside the church beside Hopcroft, her sister, Anne Salmon, expressed her gratitude toward those who’ve pitched in to help.
“The friends I work with are all supporting me, and they’re waiting for my family to come,” she said tearfully. “It’s an immense feeling. We’re very proud to be Canadians and very proud to have friends that support us.”
As the trio prepared to head home, Hopcroft reflected on the Easter service: “I prayed in church today that God would send his love and messages of peace to the Russian people . . . and to stop this fighting because they're the only ones who can really stop it, and God will help them stop it.”
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press