Christmas toy, winter clothing drive in Winnipeg for Ukrainian newcomers

As Ukrainians prepare for their first holiday season in Canada, one refugee centre is doing everything they can to bring the Christmas spirit to those who were forced to relocate from war. Alex Karpa reports.

By Alex Karpa

The Ukrainian National Federation (UNF) is hosting a toy drive for newly arrived Ukrainian families to Manitoba to support them for their first Christmas in Canada.

Since Russia began its war against Ukraine nine months ago, 3,000 children and more than 12,000 refugees have sought refuge in Manitoba, with more continuing to come every week.

“The season of Christmas is just around the corner and we here at UNF and at UCC are planning to have a Christmas party for these children,” said Joanne Lewandowsky, a volunteer with the Manitoba branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC).

“We can only do what we can, and we are continuing to do it.”

Lewandowsky says Ukrainian newcomers have been through horrid and unimaginable things, and she wants to bring them some joy.

From now until Dec. 15, the support group will be hosting a toy drive. The donated gifts will be wrapped and given to Ukrainian children as Christmas gifts.

But as the holiday season approaches, Lewandowsky says it’s not just toys they are looking for, but proper winter gear.

“They definitely need warm jackets, ski pants, mitts, toques, scarves, and stuff to keep them going through the below zero temperatures that you and I are accustomed to,” she said.

Since the start of the refugee centre, Lewandowsky says more 2,000 families have registered and rely on the support centre for food, clothing, and toys.

Svetalana Rusinga volunteers at the centre. She is from Bucha, Ukraine, and arrived in Winnipeg on Aug. 23 as a newcomer.

“I just can’t express myself how they are helpful,” said Rusinga. “They helped me find a job, furniture, accommodations, they helped me with food.”

Rusinga will be spending her first Christmas in Canada. She says she is sad she won’t be spending Christmas at home in Ukraine but is looking forward to making new traditions with new friends and her son.

Sylvia Klymkiw volunteers with Rusinga at the centre and says she enjoys helping others.

“I feel that we really see the generosity of Canadians, especially here in Winnipeg, see the generosity and the kindness of people and it is great to see that spirit here in our community,” said Klymkiw.

“We feel very happy that we can help them, that they have been able to find us and to come and get what they need,” added Lewandowsky. “To be honest, when they leave with big bags full of stuff, you say, ‘it’s worth the trip.’”

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