Castlegar resident Olga Hallborg feels helpless as she watches from afar as her hometown of Mykolaiv, Ukraine is battered by Russian airstrikes.
That sentiment changed somewhat after a crowd gathered outside Castlegar Town Hall on Sunday to show support for Ukrainians suffering from the recent Russian invasion.
“We did a good thing in bringing people together and encouraging people to support Ukrainians through the Canadian Red Cross and other organizations,” said Hallborg, who organized the rally.
“So I feel less helpless and more empowered because of the support from the community… My heart is filled with appreciation and hope.”
Hallborg was in contact with friends and family members in Mykolaiv, a city of 500,000 near the Black Sea in southern Ukraine, throughout the invasion.
What she heard was that people need food, clothes, shelter and medicine as homes and buildings are destroyed, hospitals are treating the injured and grocery store shelves are emptied.
Photos and video footage of the city show damage to the point Hallborg says she has trouble recognizing parts of her hometown. Exploded tanks, shards of glass and rubble fill the streets.
“They are already in a humanitarian crisis, but things will only get worse,” Hallborg said.
She tries to keep tabs on those she loves – checking in with as many of them as possible each morning and again at the end of the day.
“Yesterday they were hiding in missile shelters,” Hallborg said.
But she said not everyone takes the same precautions.
“Some don’t and they stay in their apartments, hoping for the best.”
When Hallborg contacted one of her friends – a doctor – she was walking a long way to work because transport is not available. Rather than hide in a shelter, she walks painfully.
“She feels she needs to continue to provide care for people. Nobody interrupted COVID there, people are still getting sick, now probably more than ever,” Hallborg said.
Another friend, a teacher, does the same thing. Even though the school is not open, the teachers try to check on the well-being of the students and try to connect them with learning opportunities.
As Hallborg connects with her loved ones, what she hears affects her through the miles.
“If their night was a nightmare, I can’t settle down and I’m trying to think about what I can do and how I can help.”
And that’s part of how she came up with the idea for a local rally and campaign to encourage people to donate to Ukrainians in need.
“Saturday I was helpless, angry, confused and fearful, but brave. It’s a mix of feelings – wishing I was there to help, but at the same time being relieved that my immediate family and myself let’s be safe here. These are very conflicting feelings that are hard to explain.
Hallborg said the local support, as well as what she’s seen across Canada and the world, including the protests in Russia, touched her heart. The support from people of Russian Doukhobor descent was particularly touching.
“Many cried with us and prayed for Ukraine,” she said.
Hallborg says there was a lot of emotion at the local rally.
“I understand the anger against Russia in general, but we shouldn’t hate Russians – not all Russians wanted war. It’s a very complex story between Russia and Ukraine.
“I am very angry with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his government. I blame money and the desire for power – greed is what caused this aggression.
Hallborg sent images, messages and news of the donations to aid organizations from the rally to his contacts in Ukraine.
“My friends really enjoyed it. I didn’t know if they would care what happened in a small town across the ocean, but they actually did.
One of these friends posted photos of the rally on news Facebook groups in Mykolaiv.
“She said those pictures of us in Castlegar standing with our Ukrainian posters and flags showed people that somewhere in the world people cared about them.”