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YEAR IN REVIEW: Highlights from Castlegar’s support for Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine populated news sites around the world throughout 2022
Nina Kutcheruk and her family have recently arrived in Castlegar from Ukraine. Photo: Betsy Kline

Stories surrounding the Russian Invasion of Ukraine populated news sites around the world throughout 2022. Stories of the plight of Ukrainians made their way to the pages of the Castlegar News as well, as locals with Ukrainian backgrounds rallied and refugees arrived in our community.

Here are a few highlights from the local stories:

FEBRUARY: Castlegar woman organizes rally as Ukrainian hometown battered by airstrikes

Castlegar resident Olga Hallborg had been feeling helpless as she watched from afar as her hometown of Mykolaiv, Ukraine was battered by Russian airstrikes.

That feeling changed after a crowd gathered in front of Castlegar City Hall in February to show support for Ukrainians suffering under the recent Russian invasion.

“We did something good by gathering and encouraging people to support Ukrainian people through the Canadian Red Cross and other organizations,” said Hallborg, who organized the gathering.

“So I feel less helpless and more empowered through the community support … My heart is filled with appreciation and hope.”

Hallborg has been in contact with friends and family members in Mykolaiv, a city of 500,000 near the Black Sea in southern Ukraine, throughout the invasion.

What she has heard is that the people are in need of food, clothing, shelter and medications as homes and apartment buildings are destroyed, hospitals are treating the wounded and the shelves of grocery stores are emptied.

“They are already in a humanitarian crisis, but things are only going to get worse,” said Hallborg.

“On Saturday I was helpless, angry, disoriented and fearful, yet brave. It is a mix of feelings — wishing I was there to help, but at the same time, being relieved that my immediate family and myself are safe here. They are very contradictory feelings that are hard to explain.”

MARCH: Leader of Canada’s Doukhobors laments Russian invasion of Ukraine

With friends and family on both sides of the Russia and Ukraine conflict, the leader of Canada’s Doukhobors says it is a sad day for his community and people everywhere.

“We have always stood for and worked for peace, because once conflict starts it cuts like a hot knife through families, through friendships and everyone suffers except for the people who profit from everyone’s misery,” said Verigin.

“We are united in our prayers that the hostilities there cease as quickly as possible. People want peace, yet we can’t seem to put an end to war,” he said.

MARCH: Council votes to send money and fly flag to show support for Ukraine

Castlegar city council voted on March 21 to show support for the people of Ukraine by donating $1000 to the Red Cross. They also decided to fly a Ukrainian flag at City Hall and light the highway overpass in blue and yellow for several months.

MAY: Castlegar run raising money for Ukrainian refugees

MAY: Local family helping to bring Ukrainian family to Castlegar

Castlegar residents Peter and Kim Koteles lived in Ukraine from 1996 to 2005, partnering with the education ministry to impact teachers and students throughout the country.

One family close to their hearts — the Kocharyans — fled Ukraine as refugees after the Russian invasion, hoping to make their way to Canada. Upon arrival, the family of four from the city of Konotop will take up residence in a suite at the Koteles home.

JUNE: Pass Creek Gospel Music festival to benefit Ukraine relief

The event was a benefit concert to support humanitarian relief efforts for victims of the war in Ukraine. The concert featured Ukraine born-and-raised recording artist, songwriter and musician Yana Zlot.

RELATED: YEAR IN REVIEW: A glimpse of Castlegar through census data

JULY: Ukrainian family finds refuge in Castlegar

In broken English, Nina Kucheruk takes a coffee order at the Humble Bean in Castlegar. It’s her first day on the job and in spite of all she has gone through, she has a smile on her face.

The Ukrainian refugee fled her home in Kyiv several months ago and has only been in Castlegar for just over a week. She has come with her eight-year-old daughter Katya, her mother-in-law Iryna and her 12-year-old brother-in-law Ivan. Her husband has stayed behind to assist with the security of Kyiv.

After spending her life in big cities, Kucheruk was hesitant at first when the placement agency assisting her with relocating to Canada said she would be better off in a small town. But that small town is what has put a smile on her face today.

In a very short amount of time, the community has rallied to assist the family. A permanent home has been found, donations to furnish the home have been pouring in, and Kucheruk has found a job.

“People are so nice, so good and they don’t know us. The doors are always open and people want to help us,” said Kucheruk through tears. “I want to say thank you to all the people in this town.

“I see so many people who help, and don’t ask for something back.”

Initially, the family went to Poland, hoping the war would end quickly and they could return home. But eventually Kucheruk says they had to accept the reality that the war would be long.

With her husband remaining behind in Kyiv, the decision to leave for Canada was difficult.

Kucheruk says her husband told her, “You must not think about me, you must think about our daughter.”

The family then spent weeks gathering documents and filling out forms. Kucheruk’s daughter did not have a passport, which added complications.

“It was a long process, because many people want to go to Canada,” said Kucheruk.

Once the family arrived in Canada, they had to spend two weeks in quarantine in Vancouver. There they received assistance securing medical exams, SIN numbers and cell phones.

“It may seem so little, but for me it was not,” said Kucheruk who has been overwhelmed at times by the kindness of others.

But Kucheruk misses her husband, her family and her homeland, so sometimes her smile fades.

“I try not to be discouraged, because I know I can not go home” she says. “But I have a daughter, and I do not want her to be scared because I am scared. If I smile, she smiles.”

AUGUST: Ukrainian family reunites in the Kootenays

Misha Sergyeyev was safely out at sea when Russia invaded Ukraine. His wife, youngest daughter and mother-in-law weren’t so fortunate. They were in Mykolaiv at their apartment, which was near a Ukrainian military airbase, when the war began. As a military target, the area was immediately under heavy attack.

That day the women fled to their rural cottage, where they spent the nights trembling in the crawl space of their underground pantry.

“It was very traumatic for them,” says Emre Senay, Misha’s son-in-law, who is a production coordinator for Kalesnikoff. “They were lucky to have that place to shelter otherwise it would have been much more difficult for them.”

“The moment they left the country, we were extremely relieved,” Emre says.

Emre and Oksana (Misha’s eldest daughter) had immigrated to Canada years earlier. Across the ocean from their loved ones, they felt helpless and afraid. Oksana began working to bring her family to Canada as refugees.

Meanwhile Emre wondered if there might be a place for Misha at Kalesnikoff. He was a skilled professional with 25 years as an electrical and technical officer on ships.

“I just made Chris Kalesnikoff aware of it, and then he gave us a chance,” says Emre. “We are very happy that they were kind enough to think about our family and give us this opportunity.”

“We reunited the family, but under bad circumstances,” Emre says. “We feel very grateful that they are here. It’s sad for the country, but we can only focus on our own lives.”

Misha is now an electrical assistant on Kalesnikoff’s resource team. He’s grateful to put his skills to work despite his credentials not translating directly.

RELATED: YEAR IN REVIEW: 2022 in photos

NOVEMBER: Castlegar’s Ukrainian community gathers to remember Terror Famine of 1932

With war still raging in Ukraine, members of the Castlegar Ukrainian-Canadian community and their supporters gathered at Castlegar City Hall on Nov. 26 to remember the victims of another conflict.

Holodomor (death by hunger in Ukrainian) is the day set aside to remember victims of the 1932-1933 Soviet-made famine in Ukraine that killed millions of people.

The Holodomor is also known as the Terror Famine as Joseph Stalin’s totalitarian regime inflicted a famine-genocide on the people of Ukraine by stealing their land, seizing their crops and prohibiting people from leaving their communities.

Olga Hallborg, Stepan Hevak, and Daryna Bukach, members of the local Ukrainian-Canadian community, joined together to say, “This year, as Ukrainians once again suffer from Russian aggression and attempts to colonize their motherland, we need to look at the Holodomor not only through a historical lens, but also through a contemporary one.”

“If Russia stops its unprovoked and unjustified genocidal attacks on Ukraine there will be no war, but if Ukrainians stop defending their motherland — there will be no Ukraine,” says Hallborg, who was one of the organizers of the gathering. “We must ensure that Russia never again is able to demonstrate aggression to Ukraine or any other country in the world.”

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Olga Halbourg is a driving force behind local efforts to support Ukrainians. She is seen here at the Holodomor Memorial Day gathering. Photo: Terran Ambrosone

Betsy Kline

About the Author: Betsy Kline

After spending several years as a freelance writer for the Castlegar News, Betsy joined the editorial staff as a reporter in March of 2015. In 2020, she moved into the editor's position.
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