A number of Central Albertans stepped up to support the people of Ukraine after Russia’s invasion earlier this year.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February and since then about 500 displaced Ukrainians have moved to the Red Deer area.
Many central Albertans showed support for Ukraine at various gatherings throughout the year, including the Ukrainian Displaced Persons Planning Committee’s Red Deer Stands With Ukraine rally at City Hall Park this past June.
Father Jim Nakonechny of the St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church, who also serves as the chair of the Ukrainian Displaced Persons Planning Committee, said it was a scary time when the war began.
“It was a very emotional time for all of us,” said Nakonechny.
“I remember my first sermon on the Sunday after the war started on Feb. 24, that was the hardest Sunday I ever had to preach.”
The Ukrainian Displaced Persons Planning Committee has brought about 100 of the 500 individuals to central Alberta and has raised more than $180,000 to support them.
Months later, the war is still ongoing and the committee continues to support those coming to central Alberta.
“The parents of the people who are already here are coming, so there are a lot of seniors. Some say they are coming just for the winter and then they want to go back home depending on the situation,” Nakonechny said.
“The winter there isn’t as cold as it is here, but … if you have no gas, no heat and you’re living in an apartment, you can’t survive. In the villages, a lot of places still have wood stoves, so they can still cook and heat the house, but most of the bombing is happening in the cities.”
Nakonechny said he recently read about a child and mother who were killed after a bombing.
“It’s stories like this that keeps us wanting to continue the hard work we’re doing,” he said.
Some central Albertans actually went to Ukraine to help people in 2022.
The Alberta-based Canadian International Rescue Organization sent a search and rescue team for two stints in Ukraine throughout 2022.
The team first travelled to Kyiv, Ukraine, from early March to early April. The team took part in three search and rescue operations and was on standby for another four or five times during that first stint. One individual buried under the rubble of a destroyed building was rescued by the team.
After returning home for a couple of months, the team returned to Ukraine for much of the month of June. This time, the team’s main job was to help with the structural stability of buildings in Kharkiv, which is located on the country’s eastern side near the Russian border.
“That place was one of the first hit during the war, so there was lots of structural damage. There was still daily bombing and daily rockets,” said team lead Marcel Schur told The Advocate shortly after returning home.
The team responded to “at least one call a day,” Schur said.
“There was so much damage there, especially on the eastern edge of the town where the strikes first happened,” he said.
“We would go into a (bomb) shelter seven times a day. Sometimes even more. At night, you’re up every two hours because of an evacuation.
“People got tired quicker and got frustrated more easily. It was stressful in that way. But the work wasn’t really stressful because you weren’t really dealing with humans. You weren’t trying to save anybody’s life, you were trying to prevent something from happening.”