While enjoying life in small-town New Brunswick, the hearts and minds of Ukrainian families living and working in Woodstock remain with family and friends fending off the brutal Russian invasion of their homeland.
On Saturday afternoon, April 23, local Ukrainian families and the Woodstock Christian Academy discovered widespread support for Ukraine as Carleton County residents turned out in significant numbers to "Stand Together."
"Praise the Lord," said Serhii Makohoniuk, a Ukrainian immigrant and Woodstock Christian Academy teacher, as he looked around at the large crowd gathering in front of the academy on Broadway in Woodstock.
Makohoniuk said the academy's staff and students partnered with the local Ukrainian community to host the event to raise funding support "for the people of Ukraine, who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance."
He said the fundraiser will direct all money raised "to aid those who are in need of assistance through the BCU Foundation, a Canadian Registered Charity with ties to Ukrainians on the ground in the areas hardest hit by the war and where help is needed the most."
Makohoniuk said Saturday's event focused on raising funds to support Ukrainian hospitals, noting the immense need for life-saving medicines.
He said 10 Ukrainian families joined academy staff to oversee tables offering Ukrainian food and crafts and an opportunity for Carleton County residents to meet and talk to their Ukrainian neighbours.
Makohoniuk said some families have lived in the Woodstock areas for a few years, and some arrived only recently.
Vadym Stepaniuk and his wife Veronika Bulakh, who work at Jolly Farmers in Northampton, greeted and thanked the many supporters as they purchased items or stuffed cash in the quickly filling donation jars.
Stepaniuk said they have many loved ones living in constant danger back in their homeland, including his parents.
"We call them every day," he said.
Stepaniuk said his mother lives in Central Ukraine, away from the worst atrocities to date, but all of Ukraine sits in danger. His mother told him a bomb had recently landed only 500 metres from their home.
He said other close family members live in Russian-occupied territories.
Stepaniuk said one of his best friends serves in the Ukrainian forces. While they try to remain in touch, his friend is now on the front lines, and they haven't communicated for 10 days.
While Canada opened its borders to Ukrainian refugees, it remains a daunting process to flee Ukraine to a neighbouring country such as Poland, then arrange passage to Canada.
Even before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Oleh Avramcenko moved to Woodstock through an immigrant work program but ran into the complex paperwork required to have his wife Oksana and three children follow him.
Craig Campbell, a well-known local volunteer who for several years helped local families in need fill out income-tax forms, said he helped Avramchenko wade through the complex immigration paperwork. Eventually, Oksana, seven-year-old Lisa and three-year-old twins Kataryna and Oleh, Jr. joined their father in Woodstock.
Campbell said the family is now trying to arrange for Oksana's close friend and her son to make it to Woodstock.
Oleh said their friend, currently in Poland, recently delivered good news, explaining she and her son now have the necessary visas. Hopefully, he added, she can arrange travel soon. Oleh said they already had job interviews lined up upon her arrival.
Makohoniuk expressed his appreciation to the Carleton County community for its ongoing support. While Saturday's Standing Together fundraiser focused on health-care and medical needs, he said Ukraine faces demands on several fronts.
Makohoniuk explained that the BCU Foundation and others hope to provide Ukrainian forces with basic needs, such as helmets, gloves, knee pads and wet wipes, to improve their comfort in the field. However, he noted that even such basic provisions require the Department of National Defence Canada's approval to be shipped to a foreign military.
Tobique-Mactaquac MP Richard Bragdon, one of the many visitors to the Standing Together event, told Makohoniuk to call his office. He explained he might be able to direct him to helpful contacts.
Bragdon said it's challenging to find words to explain Ukraine's devastating situation. He said that the world, including Canada, must do everything it can to support the nation's fight for freedom.
The MP praised the academy students, staff, local Ukrainian families and the many area residents who turned out to show their support.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun