Daria Prodan, left, fled Odessa, Ukraine, once the missiles started landing in her hometown, moving outside the city into a small rural town, then on to Romania and finally for the past month in Owen Sound, Ont. Prodan was among the special guests at the Hamilton Helps Ukraine event May 5 in Hamilton, Ont. Guests demonstrating their support for Ukraine were treated to Ukrainian music as part of the event. Photo by Michael Swan

More than a quarter of Canadians have donated to Ukraine war relief

  • May 11, 2022

Daria Prodan has been in Canada a month since she fled Odessa, Ukraine, for Bucharest, Romania, and then made her way to a new normal in Owen Sound, Ont., but her English is great. In an interview the confident 23-year-old chooses her words carefully, but rarely hesitates — until she’s asked about the Russkiy Mir (Greater Russia) concept driving Russia’s vast army over the border and into her country.

Asked about the central reason Moscow Patriarch Kirill and Russian President Vladimir Putin give for bombing Mariupol and Odessa to blackened rubble, her eyes open wide and she holds her breath.

“They have this idea that Ukraine wants to be saved from something that they’ve imagined in their heads,” she said. “We don’t want to be saved. It’s crazy.”

Prodan’s mother tongue is Russian, the majority language in her hometown on the Black Sea.

“We were never repressed — never, ever,” she said.

The liberation Russia has planned for Prodan and her family began in February.

“We woke up and we heard explosions, saw smoke,” she recalled.

Missiles were raining down on the historic port city, setting buildings on fire, leaving craters everywhere. Prodan’s father initially moved the family out of the city to the nearby village where Daria’s grandparents live. Two weeks of escalating violence convinced her father to send his wife and daughters out of the country.

In Bucharest, Prodan remembered a Canadian couple she had met at a summer English camp when she was a student — Matthew and Vanessa Mutch, who taught English at the camp. She wrote them to ask whether they thought she could make a go of it in Canada. By April 10 she was in Owen Sound, where the Mutch family has  opened its home to her.

Prodan’s mother and sister are still in limbo in Bucharest and her father in Ukraine. The news never felt more real to the young graduate of a university public relations and advertising program.

“I’m always conscious. I’m always worried about Ukraine,” she said. “I have people to worry about.”

Prodan doesn’t worry alone. Canadians are worrying along with her.

More than a quarter of Canadians (27 per cent) have donated money to help Ukrainians — either refugees arriving here or the displaced inside Ukraine and surrounding countries. A similar number (28 per cent) are active on social media in support of Ukraine, according to an Angus Reid survey released May 8.

At a Hamilton Helps Ukraine event organized by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, where Prodan was a special guest, about 800 people showed up to demonstrate their support and learn about the genocidal famine imposed on Ukraine by Joseph Stalin in 1932 and 1933. Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger announced the city had already sent $50,000 worth of relief to Ukraine and at nine cents per taxpayer could afford to do much more.

The Knights of Columbus in Ontario and British Columbia are raising money for their long-standing partner, the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation. Ed Sawchuk, financial officer for the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada and past state deputy of the Knights in British Columbia and the Yukon, has persuaded the Knights to focus fundraising on wheelchairs for Ukraine.

“One of the tragedies right now is that wheelchairs that were given in eastern Ukraine are being left behind because there’s no way to take them when people are moving west to get out of the fighting,” said Sawchuk. “If we can replace those wheelchairs, that would be wonderful.”

Sawchuk was in Ukraine in 2015 to witness the distribution of wheelchairs, many of them going to people injured in the war that began in 2014 in the Donetsk region. Sawchuk dreams of something much better for the homeland of his heritage than just wheelchairs.

“In my wildest dreams, the war will end and we will be able to get wheelchairs to people in Ukraine who need them, on the ground, and not have to hold back at the border because there’s fighting going on,” he said.

The Ukrainian Catholics have been looking for friends everywhere, trying to boost the efforts of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and others, Sawchuk said. One of those friends, Development and Peace-Caritas Canada, has so far raised $1.4 million for relief efforts inside Ukraine.

“Our faithful know the pain of dislocation and war from personal experience or family history,” Ukrainian Catholic Bishop of Toronto and Eastern Canada Bryan Bayda said in an emailed statement. “It is therefore not surprising that they are now mobilizing, in whatever way possible, to support those who have been forced from their homes and from their homeland… We embrace those whose lives have been shattered by war. We will continue to work together with community organizations involved in the effort to offer assistance.”

Canada has so far sent more than $118 million in surveillance equipment, body armour, weapons and ammunition to support Ukraine’s defence. It has also sent $245 million in humanitarian assistance. The government has imposed sanctions that target Russian oligarchs and politicians. The spring federal budget included a $500-million commitment for more military aid.

Without regard to political stripe, Canadians support their government’s involvement, according to the Angus Reid survey conducted May 4-6 among a random sample of 1,992 Canadians. Three-in-five (61 per cent) told Angus Reid they approve of the way the government has responded.

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