The Chateauguay Valley continues to be a welcoming place for families fleeing the war in Ukraine. Since last March, at least $37,000 has been raised through the efforts of many Valley community groups, businesses, families, and residents.
The funds have been managed by the Chateauguay Valley for Ukraine group, which started as a simple Facebook page to bring resources together in the event Ukrainians arrived here. “It is just people coming together to do what they can to help,” says the page founder, Stephanie Maynard. She reports they have purchased flights and medical exams for 35 Ukrainians, while 19 more individuals have been helped by the community-raised funds.
“There are still families that are waiting for visa approval that we have been in conversations with for months,” says Maynard. She confirms another family just arrived, adding that while she continues to be amazed by the funds raised, “We are running out.” After flights and medical exams, there will be little left.
Maynard says the most significant hurdle for the families is finding a vehicle. “It’s a huge expense when they arrive with nothing,” she says, explaining that without a car, they must remain dependent on hosts for longer. “We are also starting to see a lot more single women with children, as the men can no longer leave Ukraine,” she adds – so accessing daycare is critical.
Maynard’s family is hosting Kateryna (Kate) Felyk, who arrived in June after fleeing Kiev with her young son, leaving her husband and family behind. “It was my first trip abroad,” Felyk says, with a touch of irony. Her train from Kiev to Warsaw, Poland took 15 hours because of constant safety checks of the tracks. Her husband was sent to the United Kingdom to receive one month of training in September before being sent to the front lines. Maynard says this has been particularly difficult for Felyk, who receives short messages, just to confirm he is alive and well.
Felyk’s family in Kiev is now dealing with cold and lack of electricity, and communication is difficult. “I am here alone with my son. I don’t know what I would do without [Maynard],” says Felyk.
Maynard says many of the Ukrainians who have arrived in the past year are now settling in and are starting to build a life here in the Valley. There is still a need for more host families, however, as the war in Ukraine still rages.
‘My country is very beautiful’
“My son, who is ten, brought it up at the dinner table,” says Christine Lauziere-Schuster; his grade 5 class at Ormstown Elementary School had been talking about the war. The family had previously welcomed international students into their home, so Lauziere-Schuster created a profile on an online site for those willing to host people. In March, she began talking with Kristina Yarmolenko, who had fled Ukraine for Germany when the war broke out; she arrived at their home on October 30.
“I feel very comfortable with this family,” says Yarmolenko, who takes part in community events and is getting to know the area. She recently started a job at Leahy Orchards, and she insisted on taking the entire family out for supper with her first paycheck. It hasn’t been easy, however. Yarmolenko left behind her family, including her mother who refused to leave Ukraine, and her children, who are safe in Europe. “It is very hard. My country is very beautiful,” she says.
Donations needed for shelter
“Families will celebrate Christmas this year without heat and electricity. They are not able to travel,” laments Yarmolenko. “It is sad,” she adds, explaining she would like to organize a collection of warm clothing, gently used toys, and other gifts to donate to a women’s shelter in Ukraine run by a close friend. The shelter has been taking in more women and children, as so many have lost their homes or their husbands to the war; Lauziere and Yarmolenko are hoping the Valley will once again show its generous side by helping out. Collected items will be sent after January 8; anyone willing to donate may contact email@example.com.