With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine just over a year old, Kelowna has seen over 460 displaced Ukrainians arrive here since the war began with 30 more families – mostly women and children – coming next week.
In advance of a major community fundraiser next Tuesday to support this new Ukrainian community, and to learn just a little more about some of them, The Daily Courier spoke with three new citizens of Kelowna (with the aid of Google Translate) who are trying to settle into life in a new city and country.
Anna Vartanian arrived last year, while her in-laws Natalya Vartanian and Edward Vartanian arrived just a month ago. Along with millions of their fellow Ukrainians, they fled their native Odesa ahead of the invading Russian forces.
Odesa remains under Kyiv’s control and they didn’t personally experience or witness the murder, rape and torture inflicted upon Ukrainian people by the Russians, but their lives have been turned upside down and their country remains locked in violent conflict that shows no sign of ending soon.
Anna Vartanian was an economics lecturer and a civil servant in water management in Odesa. She spoke of how much fear the Russians have created in her country.
“Russians have harmed us a lot. We were very afraid for our children. Most all of us left our relatives behind and most of the men have gone to defend our country. So there are many dead husbands and brothers. I never thought I would leave my home, so for me the biggest harm for me is that I am not at home, and I am very worried for everyone I know. We have very good armed forces but the Russians destroyed many towns in the first months of the war,” she said.
Natalya Vartanian was an academic coach and health consultant.
When asked how it feels to have left her country, Natalya spoke of the pain of leaving one daughter behind and of the support she feels from Canadians. “We are very sad we left home, but here our son- and daughter-in-law and grandchildren were waiting for us. Canadian people have been very supportive and kind for the first month. We are very grateful to Canada.
“It is very hospitable and people are kind and sympathetic,” she said.
Edward Vartanian was a ship’s carpenter who before the war traveled the world working on ships. He spoke of what he thinks it would take for the conflict in Ukraine to end: Russian forces gone from all parts of Ukraine, including Crimea, which Russia illegally occupied in 2014.
“We all want the war to end as soon as possible but we understand for that to happen, we have to get back all of our territories that have been occupied since 2014. We need to get back to the Ukrainian borders as they were in 1991 (when the former Soviet Union dissolved). Russian soldiers should leave and never set foot in our territory again. We will have victory when we are back to our borders from 1991,” he said.
To support the new arrivals from Ukraine and those already here, a fundraiser is taking place this Tuesday at the Kelowna Yacht Club. It’s called Blue Jeans, Burgers and Bevvies and offers food and drinks, music by the Zamboni Brothers and a silent auction. Half of each $40 ticket will go to the Ukrainian refugees and is also tax-deductible. Kids 18 and under get in free, and so do adults if they can’t afford to buy a ticket right now.
The fundraiser was organized by Hearts & Hands 4 Ukraine, a group based at the Kelowna Yacht Club that formed last year in response to the war. Tod Alstad is one of the organizers and he said yacht club members have been working to find ways to help since the conflict in Ukraine began just over a year ago.
Tuesday’s fundraiser is a start: they’re trying to raise $500,000 over the next few months to support the new Ukrainian community.
“We’ve done some smaller things, helped to place some families and helped with some employment, but now our goal is much bigger.
“From our experience, some of these people are coming with absolutely nothing, not even a suitcase, while some might have a few items of clothing and possessions,” said Alstad. “It’s hard to even fathom what many of them have been through.”
And it’s not too late to help. Community members or businesses who can donate silent auction items worth at least $50 should contact Tod Alstad at email@example.com.
Tickets for Blue Jeans, Burgers and Bevvies are available at the door or online at eventbrite.ca/e/blue-jeans-burgers-bevvies-fundraiser-tickets-577655622517.
The Kelowna Yacht Club is at 1370 Water St.