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Living across borders

May 13, 2024 | Community, Featured

Anna’ Dombrovskas volunteer experience – hosting the Ukrainian profile TV show in Ottawa.

Rachel Caklos for NP-UN.

Anna Dombrovska, originally from Kyiv, moved to Canada in 2007 with her family as her mother was posted to the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottawa. What was supposed to be a short three-month trip has led to Anna establishing herself in the Canadian-Ukrainian community and taking every opportunity to volunteer and help Ukraine. She has been exemplary in her initiatives, particularly in founding and organizing organizations and protests and directly contributing to the aid efforts from Canada in her role as Projects Officer responsible for the Ukraine Program with CNEWA.

Anna grew up and lived in Kyiv. She would visit her grandmother and great-grandmother in the Ukrainian villages in the summer and described these villages as the epicentre of Ukrainian culture and language. Growing up in the city, she did not see a strong difference between the different nationalities of people that made up the population, as there was a diverse mix of Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Jews and other nations.

This was an inherited (I did not experience much of the USSR) imposition of the Soviet Union as everyone was perceived as one of the same, disregarding their difference through language, motivations and culture. However, when you step out of the busy city centre and into these traditional Ukrainian villages, the culture comes to life as it is fostered alongside the customs that are held firmly. She described it as the “true Ukrainian way”, where Ukrainian influence was in its purest form. In addition to spending invaluable time with her family, these visits were very special to Anna as they allowed her to enjoy the purity and richness of her heritage during a very exciting part of the year.

Education was very dependent on where you studied. Anna explained that under the Soviet Union, there was little to no mention of Ukrainian customs. The curriculum was heavily focused on Soviet traditions. This, however, changed under independent Ukraine in 1991 as the whole school system converted to Ukrainian-forward teachings. The reprinting of history books was actioned, and everything gradually became written in Ukrainian. This transition took a very slow and steady approach, however, positive changes were on the horizon.

Many of Ukraine’s largest cities, particularly Kyiv, were mainly Russian-speaking. However, as the capital, Kyiv was the core of change. Higher education institutions, such as universities, were required to implement Kyiv’s new language reforms, which necessitated professors to teach in Ukrainian or leave the school.

As Anna studied in Independent Ukraine, she witnessed this transition; however, she understood that the strong influence of the Soviet Union was still highly relevant to the world around her.

Anna came to Canada with her family in 2007, planning to stay for a maximum of three months to help her mother and brother, then return to her life in Ukraine. However, as time passed, Anna took the opportunity to study in Ontario.

Back in Ukraine, Anna studied at the Linguistic University, where the focus was on English language and literature, as well as German language. Before the war, it was more challenging to obtain permanent residence status. She was required to complete a program that led to a work opportunity. She opted for a program at Algonquin College, where she completed a two-year marketing diploma. She was very impressed by the Canadian higher education system compared to the Ukrainian one. She recognized all the elements missing from the Ukrainian system being implemented within the Canadian one. Her current position with CNEWA emerged as a result of opportunities she received at school and being actively engaged with the Ukrainian community.

Visit to Ukraine in 2017 during Anna Dombrovska’s first months of work with CNEWA. Bishop Stepan Sus shows flask from the frontline at the Garisson Church of St. Peter and Paul in Lviv Photo Misha Lytvynyuk Photography

Anna has always strongly advocated for Ukraine and its long-awaited freedom to be its own independent territory. She recalls standing amongst her friends and documenting the events of the Orange Revolution that took place in 2004/2005. This was memorable for her as it was one of the first clashes; to many, it felt like a breakthrough. It was a start to a new life in Ukraine that moved away from its dark past of Soviet overtaking to instead, cultivating independence and freedom.

After moving to Canada, it became more challenging to be at a distance from her friends, family and Ukrainian community. When the Euromaidan protests began in 2013, Anna described the feeling of being away and watching from a distance. “It was hard not to be there, and it was hard to watch. Many said it was easier to be a part of Euromaidan and risking your life.”

Euromaidan Ottawa Rally in front of the embassy of Ukraine. Photo Adriana Luhovy

Anna could not stand idly by; therefore, alongside her work, she founded Euromaidan Ottawa, where she and a group of volunteers started the movement in Canada where they organized protests, advocated at the Canadian government to raise issues regarding Ukraine, as well as planning various events to send help, raise awareness and fundraise.

After graduating and a few years of work experience later, Anna has been able to make a direct impact daily with her role with CNEWA. The organization directly sends aid to Ukraine through monetary donations alongside on-the-ground programs through the Church. This role has allowed Anna to actively support Ukraine through these challenging times while positively impacting the people affected. The most resonating experience she has had thus far as a member of CNEWA was during the organization’s visit to Ukraine in 2023. They witnessed the programs in motion and spoke to some of the displaced people who fled their homes for safety in Western Ukraine.
Hearing first-hand accounts from people who have endured the challenges and despair of war without the framing of news articles or social media left Anna with a profound experience that will stay with her for the rest of her life.

When the war started in March 2022, there was sheer panic and fear throughout the country. Anna mentioned that people began to adjust as the war continued beyond the first few months.

When she visited in 2023, she could see her relatives and observe their lives. She was surprised as to how people learned to live in war conditions. The responses of newcomers to the surrounding environment were easily identifiable. Anna was prepared and strictly followed every instruction regarding the response to air raid sirens. Upon arrival, she asked for a bomb shelter key and was the only one within the building who asked for this access. As Kyiv was well protected, residents could understand the varying degrees of seriousness regarding the warnings they received. People became exhausted and unable to function because of going to the bomb shelter every time they received notification of a potential attack.

“Because you woke up so often at night to go into the shelter, you can’t function during the day. After the first couple of days, you just don’t go anymore. It’s impossible to live by the clock of the air raid alarms.”
However, she noted that life was completely different if you were living near the front lines and that they needed to adjust to a harsher reality.

Regarding Ukraine and its current position in the world, Anna made it clear that Ukraine, despite never wanting to be a part of the conflicts of its neighbours, has always been strained by them. If given the chance to develop, Ukraine is a country of potential. It would be a prosperous state fostering innovation and strong Ukrainian traditions. Ukraine has been improving exponentially over the years after the strong influence of the Soviet Union, however, this success has been curtailed. Anna expressed that the people of Ukraine are strong, resourceful and have full hearts. Ukraine is at the mercy of other nations as aid is needed to stop the war and the aggressor. With a country holding unlocked potential, its success lies in the hands of its allies and their continued support of the war effort.

“If we lose this war, it will be lost for humanity and democracy.”

Thank you very much to Anna for the interview and for sharing her story and insights. Below are her current work, as well as her radio and TV initiatives.

Link to CNEWA:

Link to Ridne Radio Ottawa:

Link to Ukrainian Profile TV Show:

Rachel Caklos is the winner of Ukrainian Credit Union Limited’s New Pathway Journalism Fellowship

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