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Fighting in Whatever Way We Can. Ukrainian-Edmontonians and the war in Ukraine

Nov 16, 2022 | News, Community, Canada, Featured


Where were you when…? One generation will remember where we were the day the American president John F. Kennedy was assassinated, November 22, 1963. Another will remember the moment they heard or saw the Twin Towers slide hideously to the ground of lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. But for roughly 345,000 Ukrainian-Albertans across generations, February 24, 2022, will be the day we mark as the morning we learned Russian forces had invaded Ukraine.

Almost everyone among my Ukrainian-Albertan friends and colleagues stopped dead in their tracks and reordered their lives. In my case, meetings were cancelled and new ones urgently organized while my inbox spilled over with links to webinars and roundtables of international experts as well as phone-ins with Alberta-based professors. I learned of Edmontonians of all origins who scrambled to gather humanitarian aid and organize impromptu fundraisers. People at my old housing co-op hung enormous blue and yellow flags on their balconies and planted sunflowers. So many of us with relatives in Ukraine were desperate to learn whether we could still e-transfer funds to Ukraine—in my case, to second-cousins in western Ukraine near the Romanian border. Still others anticipated hosting evacuees. And nobody could say how long the war would go on.


February 23, 2022: Vince Rees, founder and owner of Edmonton-based Cobblestone Freeway Tours, had just returned from a tour of Ukraine, where he had been rallying his staffers in Kyiv and Lviv—plus an extended crew of drivers, artisans and musicians—after a two-year pandemic shutdown. “We had a repertoire of tours that could run for 10 more years: Christmas in Ukraine, Easter in Ukraine, Highlights of Ukraine,” he says. That buildup of 150,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders? “I thought it was just sabre-rattling.”

February 24, 2022: Vince was in shell shock, “doom-scrolling” through media. Meanwhile in Lviv, Cobblestone staffers were making and storing Molotov cocktails, while others were suddenly working as translators and fixers for the international media arriving in droves. As Lviv ran out of accommodation, Cobblestone gave over its office space to refugee families fleeing west from the war zones in the east, on their way to the Polish border.

Having put Cobblestone Tours “on idle,” Vince no longer has a job. “But my business doesn’t matter,” he says. “I’m lucky in Canada. I can do other things, teach dance, live with my mother—my condo is up for sale. I’m educated, I have connections and a reputation. I’m still in shock. So I’ve sunk my teeth into the Cobblestone Foundation.” The Foundation was first established to support cultural projects in Ukraine but, with the war, donations are now sent directly in cash to support humanitarian aid—to purchase food, shelter, water, medicine, blankets, baby formula, a night’s stay in a safe place and a tank of gas to drive from Lviv to safety, among many, many other needs.

It’s Day 126 of the war as I read the Foundation’s Facebook page. Back on April 25, “The village of Tulova, supported by our Foundation, banded together to provide Easter bread known as paska for soldiers and refugees this weekend. Thank you to the villagers and to our donors for making this possible.” Ah, yes, Tulova. I had wondered how the villagers were faring: both Vince and I have ancestral roots in Tulova.

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