Jeff Sloychuk flew into Warsaw from Whitehorse on a solo-trip with 35 heavy bags on Feb. 1. His final destination — Ukraine — to deliver relief supplies that were in the bags.
Baggage costs for the bags were fully or partially covered by both Air Canada and Air North, Sloychuk said.
Sloychuk, who leads the Ukrainian-Canadian Association of Yukon, has been rallying support for relief supplies to Ukrainians after the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.
Three days later after Sloychuk’s arrival, Vita Kurylo and Parviz Agenhi, who speak Ukrainian, joined him, travelling from Calgary.
“The point of our mission was to get supplies directly to areas and people who needed it,” he said. “There is no doubt that a lot of supplies have been collected and are going to the centres or capital city. But smaller towns and hospitals are not getting that sort of support.”
Sloychuk said it was the group’s specific mission to “assist hospitals and cities around as well as support soldiers and individual units who have made specific requests over the things they need.”
Once in Warsaw, the group hired a Mercedes sprinter and a driver for $500 US to drive them across the border into Buchach, a small town in west central Ukraine, where they stayed for the remainder of time.
Bachuch is a critical town in Ukraine. It has a hydro facility, a nuclear plant and is located 30 kilometres away from the hot zone of the war and has been shelled, according to Sloychuk.
“The town is the size of Whitehorse and the hospital is half the size of our hospital,” he said. “They can’t keep up with the capacity because there are people waiting in the hallways and bomb shelters.”
Sloychuk noted the driver was very helpful in navigating the routes to get there.
“It was quite an experience,” he said. “[Drivers] have a network where they constantly communicate with each other and know which border crossing is safer.”
The group brought with them about $50,000 worth of medical supplies, equipment and basic medicines which were all donated and another $5,000 worth of two-way radios with in-built apps to support those in hospitals and at the frontlines.
The team also brought in $10,000 worth of power banks, solar power charging stations, winter boots, binoculars, spotting scopes and range finders.
Ukraine’s power grid has been badly affected by Russian missile strikes, leaving millions in darkness.
On Feb. 10, Sloychuk and his team had a press conference with local media and unboxed the supplies at a local hospital in the town of Yuzhnoukrainsk.
The hospital which provides services to the town and treats victims of the war, is in dire need of supplies.
“Everything we brought was very much appreciated and now we have a list of further needs. This is our goal, to support this specific hospital for a year with supplies and medicines,” he said.
Sloychuk said healthcare workers at the hospital recently had to make a decision to lay off half of their staff or take a paycut. The staff voted to take a pay cut.
“Doctors are buying medications with their own money,” he said. “I took a tour at the emergency hall and the situation is pretty bad.”
After the first day of delivering supplies, the group woke up to air raid sirens and had to go into the bomb shelter in the basement of the hospital.
“It’s a pretty grim place,” Sloychuk said. “It’s not a place you want to be regardless of whether there are bombs.”
The Yukon association was formed in January with three main objectives: supporting Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, providing relief support to those in Ukraine, and raising awareness of Ukrainian culture, food and people.
Sloychuk says they are collaborating with other Ukrainian groups and communities across Canada to support victims affected by the war.
On Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m., the association, led by Sloychuk, will hold a candle vigil at Whitehorse City Hall to mark the one year anniversary of the war.
Sloychuk said it is 365 days of resistance against Russian aggression.
“It will be a sombre and inspiring evening,” he said. “It will be a small ceremony where we will gather as a community, give each other strength and play the anthem with a moment of silence for the fallen.”
Sloychuk said they are very proud of the men and women in Ukraine defending their homeland and those who stayed back.
At the vigil, they hope to talk to people about the Ukraine and the continued campaign to support them.
After 10 days in the Ukraine and now back in Whitehorse, the group is planning to return and will be working “really hard to raise funds to support this hospital and the good work that they do.”
“We need to raise enough funds to deliver medicines and some high-powered antibiotics,” Sloychuk said. “In the future, we are going to focus on radio, power bank and medical supplies and spend less time on boots and winter clothes.”
Sloychuk reflected on his trip: “When you drive through the villages, the power and street lights are off. It’s just darkness and profound darkness. It’s an eerie and frightening darkness, but in that darkness are just people who are comforting each other and going about their day-to-day lives and it’s inspiring.
“We don’t recognize how privileged we are in Canada.”
Contact Patrick Egwu at email@example.com