Edmonton brothers donate prescription glasses to opticians in Ukraine

Muhammad Elezzabi and Youssef Elezzabi of Edmonton were inspired to help those in Ukraine fleeing the Russian invasion and had to leave their glasses behind.

Muhammad Elezzabi and Youssef Elezzabi held a donation drive from May to July

Muhammad Elezzabi, right, and his brother Youssef Elezzabi. (Submitted by Youssef Elezzabi)

As people who rely on eyeglasses to live their day to day lives, Muhammad Elezzabi and Youssef Elezzabi of Edmonton were inspired to help those in Ukraine fleeing the Russian invasion and had to leave their glasses behind.

After seeing the efforts of other Edmontonians, the two brothers held a prescription eyeglasses donation drive and collected over 430 eyeglasses, which were shipped to opticians in Ukraine.

"We thought long and hard, people are collecting food, collecting other supplies, what's something that is necessary, but other people might overlook?" Muhammad said.

"We thought eyeglasses."

The drive was held from May to July as both brothers, who are students at the University of Alberta, cleaned and packaged the glasses with their father. 

Glasses were donated through drop boxes at the university and the St. Martin Catholic Elementary School in the Malmo Plains neighbourhood. 

Youssef said at first, the obvious choice was trying to arrange for medical supplies to be donated.

"But then we ran into the issue of ... a struggle getting businesses to donate, since some of them have already donated quite a bit, so we shifted our focus to glasses," he said.

In March, Edmonton residents Ruslana Yurystovska and Solomiya Cherkavska organized and shipped over 10,000 kilograms of emergency supplies to help their homeland of Ukraine. 

After speaking with Cherkavska, the two brothers learned how to navigate the logistics of sending eyeglasses to a country impacted by war. 

Pictured are just some of the supplies that have been collected. (Submitted by Youssef Elezzabi)

They also collaborated with former MLA Thomas Lukaszuk, who advised on logistics.

"Like many others, these two men contacted me a while ago, telling me about their wonderful initiative. How could I not support that? As such, I engaged with them and assisted them best as I could," Lukaszuk said in an email.

"We know what it's like not to have proper vision ... it impairs normal daily functions, especially if you're probably fleeing for your life," Muhammad said.

"I think some people might have forgotten their glasses, especially if they're trying to gather more basic supplies."

Muhammad, who is vice-president of the Malmo Plains community league, said it was heartwarming to see the level of community organizing.

Surrounding community members and leagues helped the effort like Miep Raedschelders, president of the Riverbend community league, and Ken Hemmerling, president of the Malmo Plains community league. 

"I don't believe I have ancestry from Ukraine, but I feel like it's still important to support people in need and refugees, because we may find ourselves in this situation one day," Youssef said.

"So it meant a lot to me in the sense that I was able to help many people."

In the coming months, the two brothers plan on holding another donation drive for school supplies for children impacted by the war.


Mrinali is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She has worked in newsrooms across the country in Toronto, Windsor and Fredericton. She has chased stories for CBC's The National, CBC Radio's Cross Country Checkup and CBC News Network. Reach out at Mrinali.anchan@cbc.ca