A Ukrainian woman who immigrated to Salmon Arm in 2017 has been fundraising and helping families affected by the war in her home country.
Lena Emmerzael moved to the Shuswap prior to the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, both of which have affected her ability to travel home in recent years. Emmerzael didn’t expect such big events to create isolation from her family, friends and home country, and she wants to help those who are stuck in Ukraine because of the Russian invasion.
Emmerzael said she’s in touch daily with loved ones in her hometown of Zaporizhzhya, and has been collecting donations of money, clothing and anything people need. Keeping this channel of communication open has allowed Emmerzael to know exactly what things people are in need of and how to get them safely into the country.
Zaporizhzhya is close to the southern frontline against the Russian advances, said Emmerzael, and so her hometown has been welcoming people who have been fleeing violence and occupation further south. She receives updates about a lot of refugee movement in and out of her hometown. A large missile bombed her city’s town square last year, where there was nothing but civilians and refugees seeking shelter. Emmerzael said there is no military operation in the city, and Russian forces bombed it for no tactical reason.
“They’re just regular people, average people like you and me, but they’re losing homes, losing families, losing jobs, there are many civilian people injured and they just need help,” said Emmerzael.
“In one moment, these people lost everything, and you and me, we were going to get groceries, kids going to school, we’re going to drive our vehicles, and people in Ukraine, just like that, lost everything. They can’t gather with friends, they can’t have New Year’s celebrations, they don’t have businesses, kids don’t have playgrounds. It’s kind of small things but that’s everything that makes our life.”
The collected donations go directly to families and people Emmerzael has communicated with, either personally or through her family still living in Ukraine.
“If it’s big, it’s a big help,” she said of the donations. “But at the same time, to get help, of any size, it makes Ukrainian people feel like they’re not alone. They’re not alone in their fight with this crazy situation.”
That’s Emmerzael’s ultimate goal – to lend support however she can, and help others here who either need support themselves or want to find ways to help.
“Even just smiles from across the ocean.”
Emmerzael’s husband is from Canada, and their son was born in Canada. The war in Ukraine began on Feb. 24, 2022, and Emmerzael said she and her spouse have not been able to visit her hometown with their son. However, Emmerzael, said she is incredibly grateful to live in Canada, especially in the community of Salmon Arm, and for the support governments and countries have lent Ukraine. She said seeing Ukrainian flags still flying in town, almost a year after the initial invasion, warms her heart.
“Lots of people here have Ukrainian roots, but also people just support,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “Ukraine would not survive without this help.”
Emmerzael said she has met Ukrainian refugees who have fled to Salmon Arm and wants to help support them as well.
Emmerzael is collecting donations for specific people, and if donors are interested, she runs a Facebook page with information on the recipients of the donations. Emmerzael will invite donors into the online group if they wish, or send a private message about what she is currently fundraising for. Donors can leave a message in the instruction box specifying if they’d like this information on an etransfer, which can be sent to email@example.com. She also accepts PayPal donations at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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