Pat Murray sits behind the wheel of her car, inching through the parking lot at the Polish Hall on a sunny spring afternoon. She’s one of hundreds of Edmontonians dropping off humanitarian and medical supplies to send to the people of Ukraine. She’s brought along diapers, toothpaste and a walker.
Like many, she feels helpless when she sees images on TV of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Bombed-out hospitals and apartment buildings. Bodies lying in the streets. People living in underground shelters, with food and medical supplies running out. People fleeing to neighbouring countries for safety.
Murray admits she often can’t watch.
“We have relatives back in Ukraine,” she says. “It makes me feel better that I’m donating something but I’m very worried about the people there.”
“I like to help”
A wall of toilet paper, tampons, razors, comforters, first-aid kits and oxygen masks grows higher and higher, as dozens of volunteers collect donations from the long line of vehicles.
Thirty-five tonnes of supplies—enough to fill a Boeing 787 Dreamliner—will be flown to Warsaw, Poland, on March 29, 2022, then trucked to various locations across Ukraine. Any remaining donations will be shipped by sea-cans.
Volunteer Eva Urban walks swiftly from car to SUV to truck, thanking donors and taking their supplies. She grew up in a Polish town, about an hour north of the Ukrainian border. When she immigrated to Canada more than 50 years ago, she lived with a Ukrainian family in Winnipeg.
“It means a lot to me [to volunteer],” she says. “If we don’t help these people, what’s going to happen? It’s getting even worse there in Ukraine. It’s a terrible war. I like to help.”
“We pull together”
Thomas Lukaszuk, a former Edmonton MLA, and Ed Stelmach, Alberta’s 13th premier, are also on hand to accept donations. They’re the organizers of the “United For Ukraine” drive. They started calling up municipalities, companies and other groups, as well as getting the word out on social media about a week before two donation drives at the Polish Hall.
The two are more than old friends and colleagues, they share Eastern-European roots. Stelmach is the grandson of Ukrainian immigrants. Lukaszuk was born and raised in Poland, where martial law was declared in 1981.
“To me, it’s personal,” he says. “I remember I was 13 years old when I woke up in the morning and there were tanks and cannons and armored vehicles in front of my apartment.”
Lukaszuk is overwhelmed, but not surprised, by the outpouring from Edmontonians. He’s had to find a second warehouse to store the supplies, which he estimates are worth at least $20 million. There are also letters of support, written by students from St. Thomas More Catholic Junior High School and St. Angela Catholic Elementary School, among others.
“That’s who we are,” says Lukaszuk. “When we see need, we pull together. We bicker and we fight and we have political divisions and, you know, north Edmonton versus south Edmonton, but when something like this happens, we’re solid and we’re together.”
Ribbons of support
The City of Edmonton is also stepping up. Its contributions include 300 sleeping bags, 160 cases of latex gloves, approximately 200 pairs of eyeglasses, 100 umbrellas, 80 backpacks, 50 vests, 10 helmets, nine canes and two wheelchairs. Edmonton Fire Rescue Services is also donating 23 Chromebooks, with adapters for European power connections.
The support doesn’t stop there.
Buses, snow removal trucks, waste collector trucks, bobcats, automated enforcement vehicles and other City fleet vehicles have blue and yellow ribbons tied to their side-view mirrors. This is to recognize the conflict in Ukraine and to show support for the country, its people and the thousands of Ukrainian-Canadians living here in Edmonton.
“The community is standing strong with the people of Ukraine, and we are pleased to stand alongside them,” said Edmonton City Manager Andre Corbould. “We look forward to the return of peace.”
United in generosity
Donations for Ukraine aren’t just coming from Edmontonians. Supplies and cash are pouring in from across Western Canada—including surgical gowns and gloves from British Columbia, surgical equipment from Saskatchewan, and 13 pallets of assorted supplies from High River. Municipalities across Alberta and pharmaceutical companies have also contributed to the United For Ukraine drive.
LOT Polish Airlines is donating the use of its largest jet, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which can hold up to 35 tonnes of cargo, while Shell Canada is covering the costs of 50 tonnes of fuel. Lukaszuk says the Edmonton International Airport is waiving all landing fees and taxes and the ground crew will load the plane free of charge.
“It’s just incredible,” he says.
Watch a video of the relief drive and some of the people who made it go:
Displace Ukrainians to arrive in Edmonton
The plane is to arrive at the Edmonton International Airport on March 28, 2022. About 70-100 Ukrainians will be on board.
“It will be a great benefit, not only to the people that want to leave Ukraine, but so many people here are waiting for displaced persons to come, find homes, start a new life, if they want,” says Stelmach.
The United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees estimates more than 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes since the war began on February 24, 2022. More than two million are in Poland.
“I don’t think there is anything harder than being removed from your homeland, from your friends, from your family, from the place that you call home,” says Lukaszuk.
“And now, all of a sudden, be at the mercy of charity from others, it strips you of dignity. These poor children, you know, I continuously think about—they lost their friends, they never know if they will see their teacher again. I break down.”
Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows a skyline of relief—including donated diapers and a wheelchair—collected at Polish Hall on March 23, 2022.