TORONTO - The humanitarian crisis in Europe continues to develop amid the increasing conflict between Ukraine and Russia. It is generating spontaneous aid from Canadians in the Toronto area.
Thousands of Ukrainians, mostly women and children, are leaving their home headed to neighbouring countries to escape the bombs and missiles landing near their towns and villages. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNRA), more than one million people have fled from Ukraine since the start of the military operation.
That number is expected to grow to an estimated five million in the coming weeks. While Ukrainians head for countries like Hungary, Moldova, Romanian and Slovakia, the majority are headed to Poland.
So far, Poland has taken in more than 500,000 refugees. The Polish government indicated that about 50,000 refugees are arriving every day. The outpouring of support from the Polish community is visible in the overflowing donation centres near the border with Ukraine.
At border crossings, the authorities are providing refugees with accommodation and assistance. The UNRA also supports humanitarian efforts by moving additional relief supplies to key areas for distribution. They also are providing information and legal assistance to those who have been displaced.
In addition to the assistance offered by national authorities and humanitarian agencies, Polish citizens and local organizations have traveled to border crossings to provide support to the newcomers. They arrive with donations of food, water, clothes and sanitary products to help supply refugees who fled their home with only the essentials.
For instance, in Dorohusk, a village near the border, Poles offer rides to help incoming Ukrainians find their way to family contacts in Poland.
Similar scenes are repeated further south, at another border crossing near the village of Medyka. A spokesperson for the UNRA describes how a local nun was handing out battery packs and cell phone charging cables so that refugees could stay connected with loved ones.
The connection between the Polish-Ukrainian community extends beyond Europe into Canada. For instance, the Canadian Polish Congress (CPC) is bolstering support efforts for Ukrainians through their “AID FOR UKRAINE” campaign.
According to their website, the non-profit organization provides leadership to its community by unifying, coordinating and supporting Polish Canadians. In acknowledging that those who have been displaced need help, the Charitable Foundation of the CPC organized the fundraising initiative to help the people of Ukraine who have been forced to leave their country. A statement issued by the Foundation’s President Juliusz Kirejczyk read: “The money collected will be transferred to a foundation in Poland for the purpose of helping refugees from Ukraine in Poland”.
Parishes across Ontario are in the process of organizing fundraising events. The Archdiocese of Toronto has also launched a fundraising humanitarian relief effort to help the Ukrainian people. Organizers will channel donations to support the Office for Refugees, Archdiocese of Toronto and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
The desire to help those suffering under the human tragedy of war appears infectious. Magdalena Pszczółkowska, Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Toronto, acknowledged the Polish community in Canada, including organizations, parishes and companies lending their support on a large scale. She identified Cyclone Manufacturing, a Mississauga-based company that had organized a collection of products to aid Ukrainian refugees. In all, more than 2.5 tonnes of donated supplies will be shipped in the coming days.
P. Pajdo is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter