Montreal's Ukrainian churches accept donations as they prepare for flood of refugees

Racked by worry and fear for their relatives caught by the Russian assault, some Ukrainian Montrealers are keeping busy sorting clothing, diapers and other necessities for the refugees they hope will arrive in Canada soon.

Volunteering gives those worried about their families in Ukraine a concrete way to help

Ruslana Mologtsova helps sort donations in the church hall at Assumption of the Blessed Mary Ukrainian Catholic parish. She says it helps channel her worries about her family back home in Ukraine. (CBC)

Racked by worry and fear about her homeland and her relatives caught in the Russian assault, Ruslana Mologtsova has been volunteering at her church to help sort donations, in anticipation of the imminent arrival of refugees from Ukraine. 

"Basically, all my family is there — my brother, my mom, my in-laws, my uncles, my cousins. Everyone is there," said Mologtsova, sporting a T-shirt with a pre-2014 map of Ukraine that includes Crimea, printed in the bright blue and yellow of the country's flag.

She worries her relatives won't be able to get out of the country, as roadblocks multiply, curfews restrict movement, and lineups at the border get longer.

Each day has become more difficult for Ukrainians attempting to escape warfare. Russia has intensified its attacks on their country, and civilians are coming under fire.

A week into the conflict, it is already a humanitarian disaster. Families are being torn apart, as men are asked to stay and fight alongside Ukrainian soldiers. 

"I feel helpless, but volunteering helps me to get all those worries out and just do something," Mologtsova said Wednesday, taking time out from her task at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic parish in Montreal's Rosemont neighbourhood. 

The church is accepting donations of women and children's clothing, diapers, hygienic products and non-perishable food. Other Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox churches in the city are accepting other kinds of donations — some to send to Ukraine and its bordering countries. 

Rev. Ihor Oschipko has two nieces who have fled Ukraine, one with a newborn baby. He's now trying to get them into Canada. (CBC)

More than 874,000 people have fled Ukraine in search of safety in neighbouring countries, a UN refugee agency spokesperson told CBC News Network on Wednesday. 

Mologtsova said she hopes Canada will welcome as many Ukrainians as possible, and quickly, and facilitate adoptions from the country. 

"It's so unbelievable that this is happening now in the 21st century, that people are suffering: peaceful people. They don't want war," she said. 

The parish priest, Rev. Ihor Oschipko, said he's been overwhelmed by people's eagerness to help. 

"These past four days, my phone just exploded because so many people want to come donate," he said. 

Oschipko knows intimately the plight of Ukrainian Canadians trying to get their families to safety. Two of his nieces have escaped in recent days. One, with a newborn baby, had to leave her husband behind to fight. 

Oschipko is trying to bring them to Montreal.

"My appeal is to the Canadian government. Please, open the doors, your doors, for Ukrainian refugees. You won't regret [it]. Ukrainians are very calm people, very hard-working people," he said.

Philip Locascio drove from Montreal's West Island to Rosemont to drop off bags of donated clothing Wednesday. (Jennifer Yoon/CBC)

The calamity is prompting Montrealers outside the Ukrainian community to help, as well. 

Philip Locascio drove from his home in the West Island to drop of two bags filled with clothes for the church after a Ukrainian friend shared a post on Facebook about the drive for donations.

"The country is going through hell right now. We all know that it's not the right thing that's happening over there. People are going to be suffering over there, no food, so if we can help on this side of the world, that's what we do," Locascio said. 

The show of empathy from people like Locascio moved Mologtsova and other volunteers. 

"It's so heartwarming that people come," Mologtsova said, choking back tears. "Thank you so much."

Women sort donated clothing in the church basement of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish in Rosemont. Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox churches throughout Montreal are accepting donations for war refugees from their homeland. (CBC)

"I feel a lot of anxiety, some anger and hope — hope that everything goes well and that people can arrive here," said Myroslaw Balyckey, another community member. "We just hope for the best."

The federal government said last week it is prioritizing immigration applications from Ukrainians fleeing the conflict. 

With files from Jennifer Yoon


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