NOTE: Since this story was first posted, the church has started a local fundraising drive for its Help Us Help Ukraine fund. Details have been added at the end of this story.
For most of the people in Rev. Mykhailo Ozorovych’s congregation, the Russian invasion of Ukraine isn’t a headline involving a far-off conflict.
It’s an immediate, ever-present danger to their families, their friends, their homes.
Ozorovych is the pastor at Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, the uptown church that’s a gathering place for New Westminster’s Ukrainian community.
The church has about 100 families, Ozorovych says, and more than 70 of those are relatively recent or brand-new arrivals to Canada, direct from Ukraine.
Ozorovych himself has been here for 10 years. He was born and raised in Ukraine, and his parents are still there. They live on the country’s western side, far from the Russian border, so Ozorovych had hoped they would be safe.
Then bombs hit Ivano-Frankivsk Airport, just five minutes away from their home.
"I call them a couple of times a day to make sure they’re OK,” Ozorovych said.
His father is under 60, so he’s likely to end up being conscripted into military service.
But the couple has decided to stay put – which leaves Ozorovych thousands of kilometres away, watching and waiting.
Most of his parishioners have similar stories.
Ozorovych speaks of one young man in his congregation whose wife and one-year-old daughter were in Ukraine when the bombs began to fall. Flights out of Ukraine were cancelled, but they were able to flee to Poland and find a flight to Canada from there. They’re scheduled to arrive on Sunday.
The horror of it all leaves the local community feeling helpless.
“Not being able to really help in a meaningful way leaves us powerless here,” Ozorovych said. “We are getting together to pray, to support each other, for emotional support. The strain that people experience here is awful.”
Holy Eucharist hosts evening prayer services for Ukraine
The church has started evening prayer services, scheduled for 6 p.m. each night, to bring people together for prayer and support.
About 100 people turned out for the first service, half of whom weren’t members of the congregation. The services are open to all who would like to show their solidarity or who are seeking comfort of their own.
“They can come, pray with us, be with us, smile, support and comfort us, or just keep to themselves,” Ozorovych said. “It definitely goes beyond ethnic levels or cultural levels or whatever passport you hold.”
The church is also working to provide both practical and emotional help for those who need it.
Holy Eucharist runs a Saturday morning Ukrainian school for children, which currently has 60 children enrolled. Ozorovych said all those children are from families newly arrived in Canada over the past few years, so they all still have deep ties to Ukraine. As the school’s director, Ozorovych said, he’s working to see how he can help those young families with the stress of the current situation.
“You still have to feed your children, take them to daycare,” he pointed out.
The church hasn’t yet started any official fundraising for relief efforts.
“Because the situation is so volatile right now, we don’t even know where the need is right now,” Ozorovych said.
“The situation is changing so fast. You don’t know what it’s going to be tonight, what kind of call and plea the people of Ukraine will have.”
One area of help the church has its eye on is future refugee relief, knowing that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are likely to be displaced in the coming days.
The parish has a ready-made source of fundraising available for that cause, should they opt to go that route.
For many non-Ukrainian community members, Holy Eucharist is best known as the home of the famous perogy dinners that offer up affordable, Baba-approved feasts for all comers.
This week’s dinner – set for 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturday night (Feb. 26) – is still on, and money raised may well be used for refugee assistance in the future. Or it may be able to help offset costs for community members affected by the situation in Ukraine, such as the young couple facing unexpected flight costs.
“Being able to help, even a little bit, would help make the whole community feel better and less powerless,” Ozorovych said.
Prayer and financial aid: How to help
Anyone who wants to attend a prayer service can find Holy Eucharist Cathedral at 501 Fourth Ave. Services are set for 6 to 7 p.m. nightly for at least the coming week. Follow the church’s page on Facebook for current updates.
Holy Eucharist has now started a fundraising campaign targeted towards purchasing and delivering medical supplies.
The church’s Facebook page notes two young men from the parish were scheduled to fly to Europe to deliver the supplies, which can’t currently be found in Ukraine or Poland. The money will also be used to help find and cover the costs of housing and child care for women and children who have fled Ukraine and are able to get to Vancouver. As of this week, two families had already reached out to the church for help.
The church is accepting donations directly. If you want to donate to the church’s Help Us Help Ukraine fund, you have three options:
- Send an e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Donate online by using a credit card through the church's Charitable Impact page.
- Mail a cheque payable to Holy Eucharist Cathedral to 408 Fifth St., New Westminster, B.C. V3L 2X6
Some options for humanitarian relief:
- Canadian Red Cross: Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Appeal - Canadian Red Cross
- Catholic Relief Services: Urgent Need in Ukraine | Catholic Relief Services (crs.org)
- Catholic Near East Welfare Association: CNEWA Canada | Catholic Near East Welfare Association
- Caritas: Caritas - Ending poverty, promoting justice and restoring dignity