Castlegar resident Olga Hallborg has been feeling helpless as she watches from afar as her hometown of Mykolaiv, Ukraine is battered by Russian airstrikes.
That feeling changed somewhat after a crowd gathered in front of Castlegar City Hall on Sunday to show support for Ukrainians suffering under the recent Russian invasion.
“We did something good by gathering and encouraging people to support Ukrainian people through the Canadian Red Cross and other organizations,” said Hallborg, who organized the gathering.
“So I feel less helpless and more empowered through the community support … My heart is filled with appreciation and hope.”
Hallborg has been 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 has heard is that the people are in need of food, clothing, shelter and medications as homes and apartment buildings are destroyed, hospitals are treating the wounded and the shelves of grocery stores are emptied.
Photos and video footage from the city show damage to the point that Hallborg says she has a hard time recognizing parts of her hometown. Blown-up tanks, shattered glass and rubble fill the streets.
“They are already in a humanitarian crisis, but things are only going to get worse,” said Hallborg.
She is trying to keep close tabs on those she loves — checking in with as many of them as possible first thing every morning and again at the end of the day.
“Yesterday they were hiding in shelters from missiles,” said Hallborg.
But she said not everyone takes the same precautions.
“Some don’t and they stay in their apartments, hoping for the best.”
When Hallborg connected with one of her friends — a physician — she was making a long walk to work since transportation is unavailable. Rather than hide in a shelter, she is trudging on.
“She feels like she needs to continue to provide people with care. Nobody discontinued COVID there, people are still getting sick, now probably more than ever,” said Hallborg.
Another friend — a teacher — is doing the same. Even though school is not in session, teachers are trying to check on the well being of students and trying to connect them with learning opportunities.
As Hallborg connects with her relatives, what she hears impacts her across the miles.
“If their night was a nightmare, I can not get settled and I am trying to think about what I can do and how I can help.”
And that is partially how she came up with the idea for a local rally and campaign to encourage people to donate to Ukrainians in need.
“On Saturday I was helpless, angry, disoriented and fearful, yet brave. It is a mix of feelings — wishing I was there to help, but at the same time, being relieved that my immediate family and myself are safe here. They are very contradictory feelings that are hard to explain.”
Hallborg said the local support, plus what she has seen across Canada and the world, even including protests in Russia, has touched her heart. Especially touching was the support from those with Russian Doukhobor heritage.
“Many were crying with us and praying for Ukraine,” she said.
Hallborg says there was a lot of emotion at the local gathering.
“I understand the anger against Russia in general, but we shouldn’t be hating Russians — not every Russian person wanted the war. It is a very complex history between Russia and Ukraine.
“I am very angry with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his government. I blame money and the desire for power — greediness is what brought about this aggression.”
Hallborg has sent images, messages and news of donations to humanitarian organizations from the rally on to her contacts in Ukraine.
“My friends really appreciated it. I didn’t know if they would care about what happened in some small town across the ocean — but they actually did care.”
One of those friends posted photos of the rally to informational Facebook groups in Mykolaiv.
“She said those pictures of us in Castlegar, standing with our posters and Ukrainian flags showed people that somewhere in the world, people cared about them.”