Donations pouring in from Canadians to help support Ukraine: ‘We never expected such a response’

By Maan Alhmidi and Rachel Watts, The Canadian Press

There’s been a steady lineup outside the Toronto office of a Ukrainian Canadian shipping company as residents drop off aid packages for those fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Meest Corporation Inc. began sending over donated items to Ukraine for free this week with the help of dozens of volunteers who’ve been helping to pack, sort and label the goods flooding into the company’s warehouses.

“It’s still coming, it’s overwhelming. We never expected such a response. Nobody sleeps. We are here for 12-14 hours a day,” Tamara Debattista, the general manager of the company said in an interview.

“We got probably hundreds of thousands of kilos (of donations) and we are now asking for help with shipping because it’s impossible for a company like it’s not a large company, to ship all this for free.”

Meest is among several Canadian organizations with Ukrainian connections, including churches and aid groups, that have been mobilizing to raise funds and collect donated items for those fleeing the war.

Debattista said her organization has been able to secure support from some Ukrainian community groups as it sends over relief items from all its offices in Canada and the United States.

RELATED: How can I help Ukraine? A list of Canadian organizations offering relief

“Whatever we can fit we’ll be sending on a daily basis,” she said. “This is just the beginning. We already have notifications that people are sending truckfuls, 40-foot containers coming from everywhere.”

At the St. Demetrius Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Toronto, staff have been collecting funds from those eager to donate and sending them to Ukraine via the Canada-Ukraine Foundation and the Canadian Red Cross.

Darcia Moskaluk-Rutkay, the church’s director, said people of Ukrainian descent in Canada feel a duty to help those who’ve had to leave their homes because of the war.

“We are all very emotional and have been in shock for five to six days,” she said. “It’s uniting young people who have pulled away from our churches … They are now coming forward and asking how can they help?”

Moskaluk-Rutkay said her relatives are still in Ukraine and a couple of her cousins, who were working in England and the Czech Republic before the war, went back to Ukraine to be with their families as the war rages on.

“The men are returning and they will be volunteering,” she said. “One is a reservist so he’s come back and he’s gone straight into the reserves and has been deployed. The others are going to be joining their local citizen battalions.”

Anna Dombrovska, the project officer for Ukraine at the Catholic Near East Welfare Association in Ottawa, said her organization started raising money for Ukraine before the Russian attack that began last week.

“Ukraine just became a battlefield all of a sudden,” Dombrovska said. “My sister is in Kyiv, and Kyiv is being bombed every day. She has to hide in the shelter to escape when the alarms go on. Kyiv is running out of food and medication.”

Dombrovska said the association has received $160,000 in donations that will be sent to the organization’s local partners in Ukraine and neighbouring countries to support those who are suffering from the war.

“We also have a very generous couple in Edmonton who agreed to double every donation that will come to us up to $250,000. And today they decided to increase this pledge to half a million,” she said.

Pastor Volodymyr Yanishevsky of the St. Josaphat’s Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Toronto said a group of volunteers at his church are collecting material donations including clothing, hygiene products and non-perishable food to send to those fleeing their homes.

He said Ukrainian Canadians are praying for their loved ones and are eager to help them in any possible way. His own father, mother, two brothers and their families have left their homes to head to safer locations in the western part of Ukraine, he said.

“Their house is ruined by bombing,” he said. “The war is the worst.”

The Canada-Ukraine Foundation said it had raised $4 million by Monday and delivered $500,000 of that to provide food packages, medicine and shelter.

The foundation has received monetary donations from provincial governments including $1 million from Alberta, $300,000 from Ontario and $150,000 from Manitoba.

The Ukrainian Credit Union in Toronto donated $100,000 to the organization. The foundation also received donations from family foundations, community organizations, public and private companies and thousands of individuals.

Meanwhile, the federal government announced last week it will match every donation made to the Red Cross for Ukraine up to a maximum of $10 million.

Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement Thursday that 1 million people have fled Ukraine in seven days since the Russian invasion started on Feb. 24.

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