By Darren Lum
We can help Ukraine.
A cottager for more than a decade, Ola Carreira of Eagle Lake is asking the Highlands to donate bulletproof vests, so she can add to what will be sent to Ukrainians in their efforts to defend themselves against the Russians.
Carreira, who is the daughter of Ukrainian parents, both deceased, said its nearly impossible to buy ballistic armour vests, with shortages in the Greater Toronto Area and with online retailers.
This collection from here will be added to the GTA effort and will be used to protect civilians, who are doing what they can without military training to provide assistance in the war effort, which is being regarded as the largest conventional war in Europe since the Second World War.
“They’re doing all sorts of stuff, but they are out there in harm’s way and we just want to get protection for them because bulletproof vests that are there [are] for the army, or for the army personnel. They’re still waiting for more funds and they don’t have enough [to go around]. So, we’re just trying to collect, and, if you know anything about trying to get them from a hunting store or Amazon, they’re basically all sold out because there was a shortage during COVID. They just couldn’t make enough of them,” she said.
Carreira, who was born Ola Lytwyniuk in England, said helping goes beyond being Ukrainian.
“It’s not a matter of being connected to it. I think it’s a matter that the whole world just has to step up because I’m sure we all feel the same,” she said.
In addition to the vests, there is also the need for other goods such as military equipment like tactical backpacks and dry rations; non-perishable food, which has a “big demand,” clothes and footwear for adults and children; thermal underwear; hygiene products; blankets; bedding; disposable table wear; first aid and first aid kits; tents; mattresses; sleeping bags; standalone lamps; candles; and containers for liquids such as water, fuel, lubricants with capacity from 10 to 20 litres.
The transport of the donated items will be fulfilled by the delivery service, Meest Corporation, which specializes in deliveries to Eastern Europe. They are sponsored by Ukrainian-based credit unions in the GTA, who are covering the shipping costs, Carreira said.
The resolution to this war she believes rests with the people of Russia. Since the invasion began on Feb. 24, Russians have taken to the streets to protest the war, demanding peace. There has been close to a million Ukrainians, who have fled the country for neighbouring countries such as Poland. However, this conflict dates back to 2014 when Russian-backed separatists took over territories in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.
Russian president Vladimir Putin has claimed his recent invasion is based on an effort to free, or “denazify” Ukraine. Putin said the purpose of this military operation was to protect the people of the country, who have been subjected to humiliation and a genocide carried out against Russian citizens by the current government the past eight years. This genocide narrative has been refuted by historians, calling it propaganda. Another aspect in refuting the Russian government’s claims is how Ukraine’s democratically elected president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is of Jewish descent and is the grandson to the lone son of four brothers to have survived the Holocaust.
Zelenskyy is now considered a hero. He has been lauded for his bravery in the face of overwhelming odds, staying in Kyiv with his soldiers and citizens, as the Russians attack. He has been asking for a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization or North Atlantic Treaty Alliance – comprises of 28 European and two North American countries, including Canada) led no-fly zone over Ukraine. His request was denied.
The decision for Carreira to ask for the Highlands’ help came from friend and Eagle Lake neighbour, Janet Bishop, who was concerned for Carreira’s cousin Liana (last name withheld for personal reason who she met eight years ago in Eagle Lake. After a series of phone calls, Bishop gave Carreirra the good news about how residents were donating their bullet proof vests (at seven now) and it prompted a call out for more donations here.
Carreira knows what it’s like to be displaced by war.
Both her parents, Maria and Ivan were born in Ukraine. Then the Second World War started and her parents were separated. The war saw Ukraine occupied by German soldiers and then a battle for freedom was waged against the Soviets, who had ousted the Germans. Her mother Maria was forcibly sent to a farm in Germany to grow food for their soldiers, and her father Ivan fought the Soviets, as part of the Ukrainian resistance at 17. While away fighting, Ivan’s mother was sent to a work camp in Siberia. After her father was sent to an Italian prison camp and the war ended, Carreira’s parents were eventually reunited in England where she was born. Her family came to Toronto in 1965. Carreira said she didn’t even learn to speak English until she was six. She remembers her family (her parents and one older and one younger sister) and two other families who totalled 10 living with a family of five Canadians in a small house in Toronto.
With her knowledge of her father’s efforts to fight the Soviets, she envisions the same sacrifices are being made by the young people now.
“I would like to help these young men that are also repeating and doing what he did,” she said. “He could not go back till Ukraine became a free sovereign nation again [in 1991] … He was already 62 [when he went back]. He hadn’t seen his mom since he was 17 years-old and he had this trip planned and everything else. And two days before he arrived there, she passed away,” she said.
Her cousin Liana is a doctor and has decided to stay in Ukraine, remaining with her children Lana and Mischa to help with the effort.
Although they are not in direct harm’s way, being distant from the heaviest fighting, there is the every-present danger that keeps them ready to escape.
“They basically have their bags ready by the front door – a backpack with their essentials. And they sleep in their clothing in case they have to run,” Carreira said.
Her mother and father are buried, with other Ukrainian resistance fighters at cemetery located at the St. Volodymyr Cultural Centre in Oakville. Carreira imagines he would be in disbelief about what is happening to Ukraine.
“He must be saying, ‘I fought to free it and it was free and cannot believe that history’s repeating itself,” she said.
For donations and questions email Ola at email@example.com.