From the Valley to Ukraine with Love

·6 min read

Barry’s Bay -- For several people in the Madawaska Valley, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has immense personal meaning. Tetyana (Tanya) Moiseyeva, originally from Ukraine and now of Barry’s Bay, responded first by sending her own money to Ukraine; then her co-workers and clients quickly stepped in with offers of assistance.

A real estate agent with ReMax Classics, as well as a long-time server at the Wilno Tavern, Tanya’s friends and family who live in Zaporizhzhia, near the besieged city of Mariopul, told of the desperate need for medicine, clothing and military supplies. The helping network expanded quickly through Ukrainian friends in Toronto, where Tanya and her family lived when they first came from Ukraine in 2001, with offers to pack and warehouse the supplies making their way from the Madawaska Valley.

“The Wilno Craft Gallery offered us the use of their van to take boxes to Toronto,” Tanya says, showing photos of a vehicle filled with donations.

Other connections covered the airfare to fly dozens of boxes and crates to Ukraine where they are retrieved and personally directed to clinics and to individuals in need of assistance. Sleeping bags, protective clothing and military boots have been sent and distributed.

“We were able to get a bulletproof vest directly to a local volunteer who was in need of protective equipment. In Toronto, Yorkdale police and paramedics stepped in to help,” Tanya added. “People donate to the Red Cross which is good, but it takes too long for them to distribute to those in immediate need.”

The money Tanya collects from donations and fundraisers is e-transferred directly to recipients who need it immediately. The shipments of warm clothing and medicine are immediately distributed.

“We were able to send money to the mother and daughter who each lost a leg during a recent bombing in Mariupol. With that help the daughter was able to get to Germany for medical help and the mother is in hospital in Kyiv,” she shared.

The photos on Tanya’s phone sent by Ukrainian friends in her home city of Zaporizhzhia show personal scenes of devastation in people’s homes and lives. An elderly man, injured in a bombing, lies on a bed in a bedroom filled with rubble. He cannot go to look for food and his neighbours are able to use donated money to access gas to source food and medicine. In many areas there are no shops, no pharmacies and little food.

As the only city in south-east Ukraine still under Ukrainian control, Zaporizhzhia, a city of one million, has become a destination for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the Russian occupation. Many residents of the area fear that Russian forces are preparing to occupy the city. War-related training courses for teachers and journalists have instructions on how to load a gun, administer first aid and do basic medical evaluation so they can teach others in the wider community. New soldiers in training say they have little medical and protective equipment. One platoon has only six tourniquets -- a first aid essential to prevent blood loss -- for the entire group.

A photo of volunteers from the gift shop at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in Barry’s Bay, shows them packing boxes with distinctive hand-knitted earmuffs and other clothing. Another photo shows the same boxes being unpacked by volunteers in Ukraine.

“The hospital has donated thousands of dollars’ worth of medical supplies, including an ultrasound machine,” Tanya says. “The generosity has been incredible. We’ve had donations from Afelskies, Pharmasave, the hardware store, the dental clinic, Rainbow Valley and the veterinarian at South Algonquin whose contributions can help the countless pets and animals who are also in great need. ”

Many people have made generous cash donations. Students at Bishop Smith School in Pembroke, where Tanya’s daughter Maggie is in Grade 11, have also had fundraisers for Ukraine.

“People need money for gas for their cars. They need medicine, food and clothing. We are able to direct the supplies through our network of Ukrainian volunteers to where it is immediately needed. Cash is the greatest need at the moment as there is such a need for gas for the vehicles.”

The Madawaska Valley has stepped up to show support for Ukraine in different ways. Wilno’s Kashub Heritage Park has given up its flagpole to the Ukrainian flag which now flies alongside the Canadian and Polish flags. Combermere resident, Bo Stelmach, also feels a personal connection to Ukraine as his parents fled Ukraine after WWII for a new life in Canada. The former school administrator turned chef turned his culinary skills into a very successful fundraiser for Ukraine. In four weeks from mid-March to early April, Mr. Stelmach, his partner Colette Mantifel and his two sons, Ben and Dominic, made over 5,500 pierogies which they sold for $10 a dozen. Sales plus extra donations resulted in a $5,600 donation to the Red Cross Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.

“It was truly a community effort,” he says. “We shattered our original goal of a thousand dollars within the first few days”.

Mr. Stelmach says that pierogies were the perfect symbol because pierogies as a Ukrainian dish “bring people together”.

Poland is sheltering more Ukrainian refugees than any other country in Europe. Fittingly, Corinne Higgins, owner of the immensely popular Wilno Tavern Restaurant in the Polish-Kashub village of Wilno, well known for its pierogies, also donated ten percent of a weekend’s meal sales toward Ukrainian relief efforts.

For Tanya and her husband, Nigel, the ongoing fundraising has taken on an even more personal aspect with a commitment to providing a home to a young woman from Ukraine.

Vita from Zaphoroshzhie, arrived at the couple’s home on Mask Island on Saturday. Plans are underway for Vita’s sister and her three young sons to also come to a sponsoring family in the Madawaska Valley.

Tanya plans to market t-shirts and other merchandise, including reproductions of a distinctive Ukrainian stamp. She hopes to recoup a portion of the $10,000 she has personally contributed to the effort while she was organizing the fundraising efforts.

“Individuals and businesses in the area have stepped up to help very generously. But as the Russian assault continues, the need also grows.”

To contribute, send etransfers to tmoiseyeva@bell.net. Cheques can also be mailed to Tetyana Moiseyeva, 286 Mask Island Dr., Barry’s Bay, ON K0J 1B0. Cash donations can be left at the Wilno Tavern or the Eganville Leader.

Johanna Zomers, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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