SASKATOON — Ukrainian expatriates like Daria Malin and Rostyk Hursky continue to help their countrymen, especially those who are suffering and displaced by the war brought on by the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year. It has been more than 500 days since Russian troops began their attack on Ukrainian soil damaging major infrastructures in major cities and towns.
Malin is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Ukrainian Patriot, a non-profit organization which, according to their website ukrainianpatriot.org, is composed of Ukrainians and other nationals that help fund aid volunteers defending Ukraine and civilians who are caught in the fighting.
She said she and her friends, including one who grew up in Saskatoon but was in Ukraine when the war started, organized Ukrainian Patriot five days after the full-scale invasion of the country to raise funds and provide protective gear, medical supplies, and equipment, humanitarian aid, psychological trauma and PTSD counselling, and financial assistance to help in the rebuild.
“We have a friend here in Saskatoon who moved to Ukraine to learn [Ukrainian] dance about 25 to 30 years ago and she never left. She just fell in love with Ukraine, she stayed and started a business there. Then the full-scale invasion happened, and we were telling her, ‘[Ukraine] is being invaded. Get out of the country,’” said Malin.
“She told us, ‘Thank you for your concern. I am watching tanks roll by my apartment in Kyiv and I am watching civilians going out to defend this country with nothing but a T-shirt and a backpack. I will be damned if I just leave. I am going to do something.’ So, she started the funds. Then seven of us came together to co-found Ukrainian Patriot.”
Malin added the five pillars of their fundraising are humanitarian aid, medical equipment, and supplies, protective gear — [bulletproof] vests, helmets, fatigues — PTSD, and trauma support and rebuilding. Ukrainian Patriot is registered as a non-profit in the U.S. and Ukraine and has already raised and delivered over $1 million worth of aid to the Ukrainian frontlines.
“Our team here in Canada is focused on fundraising and awareness. We have apparel sales, and we take donations. A good chunk of the money that supported Ukrainian Patriot's work has come from Saskatchewan because there are a lot of Ukrainians here and there are so many people that support Ukraine here,” said Malin.
“We have a team in the US, that one is growing and the one in Ukraine is the operations team. We have a 15,000-square-foot warehouse in Kyiv, where we bring in our donations. We collect money here and sell merchandise then send the money to Ukraine to purchase medical supplies, hygiene kits, food, and clothing.”
They have groups that organize everything in the warehouse, and they have 10 vehicles that deliver aid to the frontlines aside from helping evacuate some civilians who were caught in the crossfire to safety. Ukraine has strong grassroots support from Canada, especially in the prairies.
Stream of Hope
Hursky and his wife, meanwhile, started another non-profit organization, Stream of Hope, about six years ago to help Ukrainian orphans and they doubled their efforts of sending aid to Ukraine when the war started. They then decided to start their own business, Ukieology Fashion and Décor Inc., where they import Ukrainian products to help businesses in Ukraine survive.
“It is harder to get products out of Ukraine now because of this war for the past year and a half. Everything that we bring in is made in Ukraine. It is hard to bring something where people who are making them are on high alert because of the threat of being bombed. But we have found ways to have these products shipped from Ukraine,” said Hursky.
“We are from Ukraine, so as much as possible we try to give back to Ukraine. All the makers of the clothes we sell are from Ukraine. There is one manufacturer that has three dressmakers who live in the factory, and they make the products for us and ship them here. We are fortunate here in Saskatoon, but we are thinking of those who are still in Ukraine.”
Their non-profit, Streams of Hope, has already raised and donated more than $300,000 aside from shipping over 42,000 kilos of aid to help their countrymen in Ukraine who are caught in the middle of Russia’s aggression.
Both Malin and Hursky take advantage of events like last month’s Saskatoon Folkfest and the Ukrainian Day at the Park, which celebrated Ukraine’s 32nd Independence Day. Ukraine declared its independence on Aug. 24, 1991, when it seceded from the Soviet Union which began the dissolution of the former communist nation.
They said events like these keep the public informed of what is happening to their country and at the same time promote the rich culture of Ukraine not only to the Ukrainian youth but to other communities in the city.
“Because events like these are why Ukrainians are fighting for. We are fighting for our culture, heritage, pride, and our language. Our kids are learning Ukrainian dances and our youngest is studying in a Ukrainian elementary school. It is important to do these because people are losing their lives to protect Ukraine,” said Malin.
“Protect our country from dictators and tyrants who want to occupy our land and are saying that our culture is not real and that we are Russians. Which is not the case. Events like these are proof of our own culture and we are celebrating it. It was very emotional when we went to our first dance event since the invasion started.”
Hursky added: “Nowadays because the war has been going on for almost two years, people might think it is not that bad. But the situation is still bad. People get bombed every day and they live in constant danger. So, events like these, which celebrate and support culture, show the rich diversity of our city.”
“It is nice to see non-Ukrainians joining us in our celebration and we get to share our culture while we get to spread joy and happiness. We have Ukrainians, young and old, performing our dances and songs. Our daughter was one of the performers and we are instilling in them our culture because they are the future.”