By Charlie Senack
There’s been a steady stream of volunteers at the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Hall, which has been helping with relief efforts for Ukraine for a month now.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24—an act of war that has faced wide global condemnation—and there’s no end in sight. Thousands are dead, with thousands more injured, as a whole country faces attack.
As soon as war broke out, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress went into full operation mode to collect donations of all kinds to send over immediately.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Hall, located at 1000 Byron Ave., has become a command centre for locals looking to help in any way possible. On March 5, the hall began to collect items and, within hours, was filled to the rafters.
Halyna Beznaczuk, director of communications for the church, said they collected everything from medical supplies, protective gear, toys and personal hygiene items, among others. The response was so strong, they had to stop collecting after a day.
“Everything had to be sorted into categories, packed, and then shipped to Toronto, from where it was then shipped to Poland first,” she said. “From there, it went by vehicle to Ukraine. They shipped over 80,000 pounds in just a few days.”
While select items are still being collected, priority now is raising funds that can go to humanitarian efforts selected by the Canada-Ukraine Foundation.
The Orthodox Church recently decided to make and sell perogies—a Ukrainian food staple—with proceeds being donated to the cause. Over 650 dozen bags were made, with volunteers peeling 500 pounds of potatoes and 150 pounds of onions.
“Within a day and a half, we had orders for over 750 dozen, so we had to cut off sales,” said Beznaczuk. “We couldn’t keep up anymore.”
It’s a common fundraising tactic for the church, known for their delicious pierogi-making skills. The decades-old tradition has always been popular, but demand this time was unprecedented.
Bags sold for $12 each, and Beznaczuk expects they have raised at least $10,000 to date. But, because all focus is being geared towards fundraising, they haven’t been able to come up with a proper tally.
The church has also organized Ukrainian Easter egg-making workshops, which sold out almost instantly. They are now also selling do-it-yourself kits on their website.
With Easter now just weeks away, an in-person Easter Market will be held in the hall on April 16, where perogies, cabbage rolls and other Ukrainian dishes will be sold.
Beznaczuk says the support from Ottawa residents has been overwhelming, with people from all walks of life wanting to help the people of Ukraine.
“There is a huge need to help,” she said. “When people see men, women, children in need—and such dire need—it pains them not to do anything; you think of how good we have it.”
Beznaczuk is a first-generation Canadian; her parents immigrated to this country from Ukraine after World War ll. Growing up in Montreal, she was brought up in rich Ukrainian culture—going to choirs, youth groups, dances and Ukrainian language school.
The director of communication says while a trip to Ukraine hasn’t taken place for a few decades, she still remains in regular contact with family members who remain there. They live in a region currently out of direct danger from the war, but they are still bearing witness to the tragedy around them.
‘’They are in part of the cities where displaced Ukrainians from the eastern part fled and then transited through to get into Poland and Hungary,” Beznaczuk said. “Their cities were overrun with people; there was just no room. They were housed in university school gyms. It’s unlike anything they have ever seen.”
Watching the scenes unfold from a world away in Ottawa, Beznaczuk said it’s easy to feel helpless.
“It’s difficult to hear them talk about it, but when I video chat with them, they are very brave-faced,” she said. “I started to cry, but they said ‘You have to be strong, we are going to get through this.’ Ukraine [has] a very religious culture and they believe in the power of prayer. They keep saying to just pray and God will protect us.”
The Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Hall plans to continue being a shining light in the darkness for as long as needed, both for the community abroad and locally.
“We feel it will go on for months because there are the people in Ukraine and bordering countries who fled who need help, but there are [also] Ukrainians arriving in Canada now,” said Beznaczuk. “These people will continue to need help here with accommodations, jobs, and schooling. All that help will continue until they decide to go back to Ukraine or integrate into our community.”Visit ukrainianorthodox.info to learn more about ways to support local efforts.
This story ran in the Giving section of Kitchissippi Times’ April 2022 edition.