Local community rallies together for Ukrainian relief effort

By Taylor McClure – Special to Brome County News

As Russian forces continue to invade Ukraine, organizations, institutions and people across the globe have rallied together to find ways to support the country and organize relief efforts, including here in Brome Lake.

Bohdana Zwonok, who has deep family roots in Ukraine, with the help of volunteers from the local community, has been working in partnership with two churches in Montreal collecting various items and supplies that will be shipped to the country or that will be kept for Ukrainian refugees expected to make their way to Canada. For those looking to support relief efforts in other ways, Zwonok has also been referring them to important organizations.

“One is collecting for Ukraine and the one is collecting in the view of the people coming here to Canada later,” explained Zwonok. “Right now, they are asking us not to send clothes to Ukraine anymore because the cargo priority is medication, food (dry food), baby supplies, and medical equipment; this is being prioritized above all.”

Zwonok explained that military equipment and medical equipment, which they do not have access to, are also top priories. “We do not have access to that unless we are professionals in the medical field. As far as we know, they need all kinds of military equipment, but for specialized medical equipment we don’t have access to that,” she said. “There are sites, many, many, sites on the internet, especially Facebook. The Ukrainian Congress site has set up a whole list where you can procure and send a lot of the help and they recommend certain organizations. There are many ways to help.”

Money is a desperate need for some of these organizations. “We are not collecting money, but I got money from people who are not mobile or can’t do money transfers themselves,” mentioned Zwonok. “I accepted $200 from someone who was not mobile and I will be sending that to one of the Ukrainian Congress donation places. We can refer people to sites that will be accepting money for relief.”
For the past two weeks Zwonok and volunteers have been organizing boxes in the back of Dépanneur Rouge and have collaborated with others in the community who wanted to lend a helping hand. “We have collaborations with Centre Marguerite Dubois in Bromont and they gave us a lot of things and they are lending us their truck to deliver boxes to Montreal. The owner of Dépanneur Rouge let us have the room in the back of the dep and people have been coming in with boxes. KDC are sending us 200 first aid kits and we should receive them this afternoon (March 9).”

Zwonok has deep family roots in Ukraine, she still has relatives that are currently living there. Also, one cousin of hers recently left the United States to work alongside the Hospitallers, a volunteer group made up of medics, medically trained individuals and some army veterans that are on the ground in Kyiv. “He is of Ukrainian decent. He may have been born in Austria like my sister. His parents and mine were escaping from Europe during the Second World War and they spent a lot of time in displaced people camps. My sister was born in a camp before arriving to Canada,” she explained. “His sentiment is like mine; very patriotic. We have very deep roots. My mother was a community leader in Montreal and my cousin was an interpreter and he was a journalist for Voice of America for many years. I went to a Ukrainian school, I still write and speak Ukrainian, and when we communicate with our relatives in Ukraine I still use Ukrainian.”

While the group will not be collecting items this week, their initiatives are not over. “It’s overwhelming and because it’s an emergency situation we are trying to get things done quickly and as efficiently as possible,” emphasized Zwonok. “In two weeks, we might be having another drop off point and give people the opportunity to feel better. We all feel hopeless and helpless when we watch this and we want to do something; it won’t be lost and those items will be necessary for refugees who will need them too.”

For updates on drop off points, necessary items, and future campaigns, keep an eye out in Facebook groups Knowlton.com and Lac-Brome.com for posts from Zwonok. If there are any questions, people can also reach out to Zwonok by sending a private message on Facebook.

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