SASKATOON — Baba’s Closet is not a store where you can buy things but rather a shop where newly-arrived Ukrainians — families or individuals — displaced by the ongoing war in their country can pick up free items that would help them start a new life in the city.
"I don't call this a store, since in a store you buy things. I call this a shop since a lot of the items here are donated and newly-arrived Ukrainians displaced by the war can come in and get things for free," Baba's Closet coordinator Nettie Cherniatenski told SASKTODAY.
Canada, since Russian forces began occupying Ukrainian territory in late February this year, had opened its borders, and welcomed Ukrainian refugees who either have family members that are already in the country or those who just want to start a new life.
Cherniatenski said she started right at the same time when the war broke out. She began accepting donations in her garage but after one week decided to look for a bigger space as it was already two-thirds full.
She said that she felt the urge of having something to help displaced Ukrainians coming to Saskatoon since she has direct ties to Ukraine with her father being born in the said country that she also visited several times.
“I started on Feb. 24, because I have ties to Ukraine with my dad being born there and I also have been to Ukraine. I cried pretty much when the war started. I was very sad because how could something like this happen?” Cherniatenski said.
“On [Feb.] the 26th I was standing in my kitchen, and I heard sort of someone whisper to me, ‘Nettie this is what you are going to do.’ It was a calling. Every day, since then, I wake up excited giving donations of clothes to those who are in need.”
She started accepting and organizing the donations in her garage but after two weeks she needed a bigger space since there were about two-thirds of space left. She then sent emails to storage and warehouse owners inquiring if there is a place available for her donations.
“My house was also starting to be filled inside and I don’t have a big home. I pounded the north end, in the industrial area, for weeks trying to get something. I wasn’t able to. Nobody wanted to give me space,” added Cherniatenski.
“Nobody wanted to donate or even meet me halfway. Not even [in exchange] for perogies or cabbage rolls. They won’t meet me halfway. I ended up going to one of my neighbour’s who has an oil industry company and he said that I can use his office. We were there for two months.”
But she again needed to move out as the office space was not enough as donations from Saskatoon residents kept pouring in. She again started looking if there are any available facilities in the city, but nothing was up for lease.
Just at the right time, an “angel” swooped in and offered her the facility located at 811 51st Street that they have been using for a few months now. The lady, whom she did not know, was the one who offered the space provided that her identity would remain anonymous.
“She told me that ‘you have a small and congested space here. I’ll see what I can do for you.’ I haven’t heard from this person in a few days. I leave from day to day. I got faith that the good Lord is going to help me get through,” said Cherniatenski.
“After a few days, she met with me again and said that she has two places that we can check out. We looked at both places and saw this one [51st Street facility] as okay. I told her, I don’t have the money but still, she signed a one-year lease for me.”
“She was excited to help but she wants to remain anonymous. That is what I call a walking angel. She doesn’t want to be known and doesn’t want to be named. She has no Ukrainian ties Just an angel walking among people.”
On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, whose mother is Ukrainian, stopped by Baba’s Closet to drop her donation that would go a long way to helping Ukrainian refugees start a new life in Saskatoon.
"I follow her [Freeland] on TV and I know she's Ukrainian. All her children speak Ukrainian too. I'm not looking at this as a political issue but rather a news story that can inform the west that there are people that are doing something to help Ukrainians," said Cherniatenski.
She wore a white shirt that had the Ukrainian flag with the words Slava Ukraini which translate as Glory to Ukraine in English. Her donations included rolling pins, bed linens, tampons, markers, Lego blocks and a few winter coats.