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From Heart to Action 2023 Kyiv Konnection Banquet focuses on aid to Ukraine

May 11, 2023 | Canada, Featured, Politics, News, Ukraine, Life, Immigration

Left to Right: Kevin Royle, Orysia Boychuk, Ed Stelmach. Photo: Marco Levytsky

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Western Bureau for NP-UN

Aid to Ukraine was the focus of the 28th Annual Kyiv Konnection Banquet held at St. John’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cultural Centre in Edmonton, May 3.
“What is our role in Edmonton in the midst of this carnage? It is to motivate the Governments of Canada and the provinces to continue to help Ukraine and to protect innocent civilians. Tonight we will hear more about what Edmontonians, including the organized Ukrainian Canadian community, have been doing. Much has been achieved during the past year,” explained Dr. Olenka Bilash President of the Ukrainian Foundation for College Education (UFCE), which is the beneficiary of this fundraising event, and MC for the evening.

“Tonight, we will hear about what has been achieved during the past year and what still remains to done by Edmonton’s extraordinary volunteers, from both the general public and the Ukrainian Canadian community, in the months ahead,” she added.

The three keynote speakers, who were introduced by UFCE Director Rena Hanchuk, were Ed Stelmach, former Premier of Alberta; Orysia Boychuk, President of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress-Alberta Provincial Council and Kevin Royle, Director of the Firefighter Aid Ukraine (FAU).

“In picking a theme for tonight’s banquet, ‘From Heart to Action’, we selected these three individuals who not only were mortified by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but answered the question, ‘What can I do to help?’ And help indeed is just what they did in many substantial ways,” she said.

Stelmach related how he and former Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, himself a refugee from then-Communist Poland, decided to organize the shipment of supplies to Ukraine at the beginning of the full-scale invasion.

“Thomas called Canadas embassy in Warsaw for a list of most needed items. We posted the list on social media and with support from conventional media, the avalanche of donations stated to flow from all corners of Alberta, also Kelowna, Regina, northern BC. Monetary donations from Florida and California. Helen Facsko, President Canadian Polish Historical Society offered the Polish Hall to receive the donations over two days in March. Thomas contacted the CEO of Polish Airlines, LOT Mr Rafal Milczarski, who agreed to fly the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to deliver the urgently needed supplies,” he said.

Rather than having the plane fly empty to Edmonton, they contacted the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw at the last minute and with their assistance managed to bring 67 Ukrainian newcomers to Alberta.

The Ed Stelmach Community Foundation, which he founded with his wife, Marie, in 2007 sponsored the flight, which cost $180,000, and Royal Dutch Shell provided the fuel.

The donations not only filled the plane, but another eight sea containers.

“The need for humanitarian aid will continue to grow! Homeless children, men and women left limbless returning from the front, the mental health of many Ukrainians, the list goes on! We pray that the war will end! That peace will come to Ukraine. God Bless!” stated Stelmach.

Boychuk noted that since February 24, 2022, there have been 8 million displaced Ukranians around the world, another 8 million displaced in Ukraine, more than 1 million visa applications to come to Canada filled out, 688,000 approved and 166,000 displaced Ukrainians have come to Canada, of which 33,000 have been welcomed to Alberta.

“We immediately began building relationships between communities receiving Ukrainian newcomers and UCC-APC. New community organizations have been established across the province and newcomers are creating new spaces for gathering and supporting one another such as Fort McMurray, Lethbridge, Red Deer, Vegreville – connect and coordinate role – meeting regularly and offering support including financial assistance,” she said.

Among some of the projects initiated by the Ukrainian community are a welcome booth at the airport (spearheaded by the Ukrainian National Federation, Edmonton Branch), welcome events for newcomers, English classes, job fairs in Edmonton and Calgary, free furniture warehouses, rallies to support Ukraine, sending emergency response equipment to Ukraine, providing emergency housing and food for those in crisis working in partnership with agencies, businesses and other organizations and establishing Intergovernmental relations on all levels to support the need.

In 2022 UCC-APC dispersed $253,000 including $200,000 grant funds for summer camps, program fees, welcome sessions, $35,000 for the Emergency Food Gift Card Program, $15,000 sent to Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine for hospital equipment, IPAD’s and $3,000 worth of IPADs to support the army in Ukraine.

In 2023 $230,000 plus more than 4 million in donated furniture have been dispersed to date.

Moving forward into the future, UCC-APC plans to:

• Continue ongoing humanitarian aid support: food, housing, English, employment, mental health;

• Conduct a needs assessment with our newcomers and our community organizations;

• Hold Information sessions on Employment, Tenant Rights, PR process;

• Support building the Ukrainian community;

• Support the Ukrainian language: bilingual program and heritage schools; and

• Continue to advocate for the needs of Ukrainian Community on all levels of government.

In his presentation, Royle noted that FAU was founded in 2014 and had delivered 98 tons of aid before the full-scale invasion began, including such items as specialty rescue tools/equipment. Following the full-scale invasion, front line first responders now faced shelling, rocket attacks, and gunfire while attempting to perform their duties to protect life, property, and the environment.

“FAU shifted its response to immediate action, and within two weeks of the start of the (full-scale) war, mobilized its volunteers and partners, collected nearly 20 tons of critical aid worth millions of dollars, procured a cargo jet, and on March 10th three members of our team departed Edmonton and delivered the aid to Ukraine,” he said.

FAU deployed a team to teach advanced first aid to over 80 students in Ukraine, who will then train others, and plans to conduct additional training in medical and other fields in Ukraine.

To date 244 tons of aid have been delivered and FAU was the first NGO to air lift equipment from Canada.

Bringing greetings from MacEwan University, Dr. Annette Trimbee stated: “Let me say it plain: MacEwan University stands with Ukraine and we will continue supporting Ukraine, in particular our partner universities and students from Ukraine.”

She went on to list a number of areas where GMU has supported Ukraine. Among them:

• MacEwan was proud to be able to help students from Ukraine, providing 20 with awards as well as full sponsorships for eight students from partner universities in Ukraine;

• Offered 6 non-residential grants to academics who stayed in Ukraine during the war and hosted visiting scholars in English and Music;

• Provided some space for the Free Store for Ukrainians and the FAU;.

• Students from the Faculty of Fine Arts & Communications donated all proceeds from the spring student concerts in 2022 to the Canada Ukraine Foundation, more than $10,000;

Dr. Trimbee pointed out that since 2003, the UFCE. has provided financial support and volunteer assistance every year for Ukrainian programming at MacEwan.

In just this academic year, donations from the UFCE:

• Offered 20 settlement grants to students from Ukraine;

• Helped to establish the Gene Zwozdesky Artist in Residence Program, with the first recipient to be announced in May;

• Enabled GMU to offer English language classes for newcomers; and

• Supported the Canada Ukraine Model UN project at the conference in New York.

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