Halifax's new 'Ukrainian Store' is gearing up to help more refugee families
Volunteer group providing free household items to refugees has a new home
A group of volunteers that has been helping Ukrainians settle in to Nova Scotia can take expand their work thanks to a 3,000-square-foot donated space.
The group has been collecting donations for months, and is now opening "The Ukrainian Store" in the Bayers Road area of Halifax's West End.
Rick Langille made the announcement about the new store online last week.
"The reaction was fantastic. We had immediately almost 300 likes. We had numerous responses, 'How can I help? How can I donate? Do you need me to come and clean?'"
Langille said the group hopes to have the store open by next week, so Ukrainian refugees arriving in the province can come pick up whatever they need, from furniture to clothing to toys. He said the group has helped more than 40 families so far.
Langille, of East Hants, N.S., started collecting furniture and household wares for Ukrainians three months ago. He connected with hundreds of people through the Facebook group Atlantic Canadian Hosts for Ukrainians, and soon had a group of dedicated volunteers working with him, and five storage units full of items.
But the group faced a significant road block. In May, Langille was told the group would no longer be allowed to hold their weekly gatherings for Ukrainian families coming to pick up goods.
He said the storage company, Metro Self Storage, told him it was an insurance issue.
"We were then reminded that ... if it continued, we would lose our access to the facility as well as all the donated items," Langille said. "So as a result, we feverishly sought an alternate location where we can continue with our efforts."
After searching for a new location and having no luck, Langille told the group and its donors that he would have to suspend operations at the end of June if they couldn't find a home base.
This made Tantallon lawyer Dianna Rievaj spring into action. She had donated to the group's efforts before, and knew how important it was for their work to continue.
"I think it's easy for a lot of us to put ourselves in their shoes and say, 'Gosh, if I picked up and had to land into another country where I didn't speak the language and maybe leave my husband behind, I would hope somebody would help me out, too.' "
So Rievaj sent emails to local MLAs and city councillors.
"Basically I just explained the situation," she said. "I said to them, you know, we're not looking for money. We're looking for your connections to help us find who we can get in touch with for a suitable base."
Rievaj said she quickly heard back from the office of Ben Jessome, MLA for Hammonds Plains-Lucasville, as well as the office of Danielle Barkhouse, MLA for Chester-St. Margaret's. They both suggested the same location, and connected her with the owner.
The space is owned by a local property management company and is being donated rent-free. All the group needs to pay for is insurance.
Langille said people from all over have joined the group, including many people from Ukraine who want to give back.
Anna Vasiutkina is one of them. She fled Kiev, Ukraine with her partner and came to Nova Scotia two months ago with one suitcase full of clothes.
Like many Ukrainian refugees, they stayed with a Nova Scotian host family to get their feet on the ground, but after finding an apartment, they needed to furnish it from scratch.
"It was a great help ... to look through the stuff and to have something for free because it's really very expensive to buy all of the furniture at once," she said. "And now we want to volunteer to help him."
Langille said though the support has been overwhelming so far, the group still needs more volunteers. He said since many Ukrainian families don't have a vehicle, it's crucial to have volunteers help transport furniture and large items.
The store will be open by appointment, and Langille said anyone who wishes to volunteer, donate, or "shop", can contact him on Facebook through the group Atlantic Canadian Hosts for Ukrainians.
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