Eganville – History was made last Wednesday when the Ukrainian ambassador to Canada made an official visit to express her gratitude for the generosity people exhibited for her nation in a recent fundraiser and receive a cheque for $80,000.

The Ukrainian flag was flying from the village flagpole when Ambassador Yulia Kovaliv was the special guest at a luncheon at the Rio Rooftop Patio on July 13, where Leader Publisher Gerald Tracey, chair of the fundraising committee, formally presented the cheque designated for the United 24 program in Ukraine. It is believed this is the first time ever an ambassador from another country has paid an official visit to Eganville.

The ambassador was accompanied by Deputy Head of Mission, Andrii Bukvych, who had officially represented Ms. Kovaliv at the June 17 fundraiser in the Eganville Community Centre.

“On behalf of all Ukrainians, it is so important what you are doing,” the ambassador said. “We really appreciate it.

“Every day of the war, Ukrainians are dying, for democracy, for freedom, for everything that we together stand for,” she added. “It’s so important now for those men and women who are standing on the front lines defending what we believe in, to hear every voice of support, to know that the world is standing and protecting them and supporting them.”

She said the fundraiser here was every bit as important as what the governments are doing to assist her country through their financial and military support.

“It is just as important for everybody to do what they can to stop the war and save Ukraine as a country but also to save the security of the world,” she remarked.

She noted everywhere she has gone since her arrival in Ottawa three months ago, she meets people who are supporting her country, not only through official government channels, but at other functions as well.  

Mr. Tracey, who chaired a five-person committee that organized the event to mark the Leader’s 120th anniversary, pointed out a lot of people are praying for the people of Ukraine. He cited the example of a 93-year-old senior who had asked him to convey that message to the ambassador during her visit.

“So just know that many people are praying,” he said.

Many of the attendees were wearing their “I Stand With Ukraine” t-shirts, and Mr. Tracey noted Canadians stand in support of the war-ravaged nation.

“Today, we want to focus on the goodness and kindness of many people and businesses in this area,” he stated. “As a result of our recent fundraising efforts to raise money for Ukrainian relief, almost $110,000 has been collected through donations, large and small, and live and silent auctions.”

Mr. Tracey said although Eganville is a small community that includes the broader Eganville area, it is made up of generous people with big hearts, noting when the fundraiser was being planned, no actual goal was set. However, in the back of his mind, he personally felt $100,000 was attainable.

“And we reached it, thanks to the generosity of many,” he revealed. “We are pleased to announce that $80,000 will be going to United 24 at the suggestion of embassy officials and the remaining funds will be used to help Ukrainians who have chosen to settle into communities in Renfrew County.”

He acknowledged the members of families who had recently emigrated to Canada who were in attendance, wishing them all a warm welcome to both Canada and Renfrew County.

He said working on the campaign had been an absolute privilege for he and his fellow committee members.

“There is no greater need, there is no greater satisfaction than helping those in need and nowhere else is there a need greater than in Ukraine.”

Mr. Tracey assured the ambassador her country would continue to be in the prayers of Canadians and that the community would continue to welcome refugees from Ukraine.

“The invasion by Russia, coupled with 29 months of COVID, has caused massive economic havoc throughout the world as all countries are seeing inflation rates rise to levels never before experienced. And while that has been causing hardship for many people, it pales in comparison to what the people of Ukraine are experiencing.”     

He noted how the local donation is a mere drop in the bucket when considering the massive needs of Ukraine but said it will provide some help to some people.

Overwhelmed By Generosity

Ambassador Kovaliv thanked everyone involved, noting Mr. Tracey had stated that Eganville was not the biggest community during his address.

“And we in Ukraine, it is not the biggest country on the global map. We were considered not to be the strongest country on the map, not a member of G-7, not a member of G-20.

“But since the war started on February 24, we are fighting the so-called second strongest army in the world,” she added. “We’re not the biggest, or strongest, or most developed country, but we are showing all the world the leadership, courage, and how we all resist this barbaric Russian war and how we resist the terrorism that Russia is doing.”

She thanked Mr. Tracey for his leadership in the project, adding leadership drives things to change and drives the Ukrainian people to protect their country.

She explained United 24 was a platform launched by their president to support Ukraine and funds are being directed for humanitarian, emergency re-building and some defence needs.

“For the humanitarian and rebuilding needs, this is the money which supports us to provide essentials for people who lost their homes, for people who lost their access to clean water, who lost their access to simple things like food, heating, everything that we value everyday as soon as we don’t have it ” she explained.

She recalled how she woke up on February 24 in her hometown of Ivano-Frankivsk hearing huge explosions outside her window, as her two children, aged 13 and 7, were sleeping in the room next to her.

“It was around 5 o’clock and they were still sleeping, and I got this message the war had started,” she recalled. “It’s something that I can never forget.

“And we, as Ukrainians, will live with this, but we also will live this understanding that we are doing the right things,” she added. “We are protecting our country, we are protecting our democracy, and we will continue to do it until our victory. And such a big gesture of support and such open hearts, that I especially feel here in Canada, I will bring to Ukrainians.”

She said it is very important for the men and women on the front lines to hear these stories of support from around the world, knowing they are not alone as they continue to resist a much superior foe.

A Different Perspective

Bonnechere Valley Mayor Jennifer Murphy, one of several local dignitaries, who has obviously very moved by the ambassador’s message, noted she had earlier shared with her how mainstream media is relied on to know what’s going on around the globe.

“And not realizing until Andrii (Mr. Bukvych) came and did his incredible speech, and then re-reading it in The Eganville Leader, knowing that we are only seeing a fraction of what is going on in Ukraine and what is happening to these amazing people.”

She said it was a real honour to host the ambassador and Mr. Bukvych, adding it feels like she has known them forever.    

“You speak about warm hearts and that’s all we feel from both of you and all our wonderful new residents that are here from Ukraine. Your strength and your resilience, it’s incredible, and I’m truly honoured.”

Mr. Bukvych expressed his gratitude once again, saying he was honoured to be back in Eganville and for having gotten to know many of the people involved with the fundraiser.

“I felt that evening that I was at home. While the nature and landscape are very much like the region in Kiev, where I am from, the heart and openness of all you people is the same as us Ukrainians too.

“Thank you so much for this hospitality and your warm and open hearts.”    

Renfrew County Warden Debbie Robinson said there are some recently emigrated Ukrainians spread across the county, adding as warden, she is immensely proud of the residents who have extended such warm welcomes to these families.

“My nine-year-old grand-daughter is thrilled to have a friend from Ukraine. When I watch all of these nine-year-old girls in a swimming pool and they just embraced Sofia and her brother, Oleg, it’s just so, so nice to see.”

She added everything possible will be done to continue to make the new Ukrainian families welcome, be it for short-term or long-term periods.

Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP John Yakabuski said he regretted being unable to attend the fundraiser, but added when Mr. Tracey told him about it, he had no doubt it would be a success.

He noted the flag at the municipal office, which could be seen from rooftop patio, was one of perhaps hundreds and even thousands of Ukrainian flags he has seen on homes, vehicles and other locations across the county.

“It is a testament to the way we feel, not only as people of Renfrew County, but as Canadians about what Ukrainians are going through.”

He noted he had the honour of being the liaison between his caucus and the Ukrainian community for three years and had attended many events in the Toronto area where there is a large Ukrainian population. He learned about how Russian oppression had gone on for a long time, adding much of the world was not shocked when Russia finally invaded Ukraine.

“But I think Russia was shocked by the immediate response of the world. They immediately made it clear that this was unacceptable, this invasion of a democratic country like Ukraine.”

He said while the reaction of countries around the globe is easy to see, it’s often more difficult to see the personal reactions of the people.

“Poland, where my ancestors came from, the way they have embraced and welcomed Ukrainian refugees in numbers that are staggering for a country the size of Poland. But it speaks to the horror of this inhuman wrong that is being perpetrated on Ukrainian people. And I know the world will continue to stand, people in Renfrew County will continue to stand, people in Ontario and Canada will continue to stand with Ukraine until this terrible injustice is rectified.”

North Algona Wilberforce Mayor James Brose echoed the sentiments of others regarding the support being offered to the Ukrainian people because of what they were going through.

“It was never brought more to light than when Andrii spoke with such passion at the event in Eganville,” he noted, choking back his emotions.

Mr. Tracey concluded by noting after watching the nightly news for months with his wife, Wanda, they realized something had to be done to try and help the Ukrainian people. Then after meeting Vita Ahaklova, a recent Ukrainian immigrant, on a Saturday in May, he enlisted four very dedicated volunteers to join him on the committee – William Enright, Johanna Zomers, Tetyana Moiseyava and Zig Mintha – and then a small group of local residents to help with the actual events at the arena in June 17.

“The whole experience has been wonderful for all of us and I thank all the people here today who were there to see it successfully carried out,” he said.