June 22nd, 2024

Displaced Ukrainians celebrate Christmas as conflict continues

By Lethbridge Herald on January 7, 2023.

Herald photo by Al Beeber Alla Panchenko and Veronika Mykoliachuk play with their children in Panchenko's home on the eve of Ukrainian Christmas Friday. They and their families are recent arrivals to the city and are spending their first Christmas here. They and others are being assisted by the Rotary Club of Lethbridge Downtown as they get adjusted to a new life thousands of kilometres from home.

Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – abeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

They’re thousands of kilometres and a different culture away from their families, but displaced Ukrainians are trying to keep their traditions alive in Lethbridge.

The Rotary Club of Lethbridge Downtown is assisting 18 families and four single adults resettle into new lives far from their war-torn homeland.

The Rotarians have been working with Lethbridge Family Services and other organizations since last year to provide help to the evacuees.

Today is Ukrainian Christmas and while some of the evacuees celebrated the day on Dec. 25 like Canadians, others want to keep their home traditions alive this year.

Among them is Alla Panchenko, who along with her husband and two children, arrived in Lethbridge in August. On Christmas Eve, Alla was preparing a traditional 12-course family meal in the home the Rotarians helped find for them.

For the month prior to Christmas, Ukrainians traditionally don’t eat meat, said translator Veronica Mykoliachuk, who with her family came to Lethbridge in July. Mykoliachuk is a mother of three including a daughter and eight-year-old twin boys.

Mykoliachuk, who previously worked as a city administrator, has spoken English for a mere seven months and eloquently spoke to media Friday about her own feelings and those of her compatriots.

The Ukrainian families, said Mykoliachuk, are grateful to the Rotarians and Canadians for their warm welcome and assistance as they’ve become adjusted to life in a new country.

She said the Rotarians are like parents taking care of their children and have become family to the Ukrainians.

Mykoliachuk said when they arrived, their family had nothing and were prepared to sleep on mattresses as they started a new life. But instead they were provided with housing and furniture, kitchenware, the normal life stuff needed so they could begin transitioning to life here.

“We’re so happy, they gave us not just help” but the feeling they are family, said Mykoliachuk.

In Ukraine, a traditional Christmas Eve will see the family gather at the table to eat then go to church, Panchenko said through Mykoliachuk.

Children go to homes, knocking on doors and asking if they can sing carols, their vocal efforts being rewarded with candy, money and other gifts, Panchenko said.

Panchenko said many of the Ukrainians want to keep their traditions alive at least for this year. She said it isn’t easy being so far away from family at Christmas, tears welling in her eyes as she talked through Mykoliachuk about leaving everything and everybody behind to escape their war-ravaged country.

The Rotarians have gotten the families involved in the community, treating them to several celebrations and in return the arrivals have been volunteering at Rotary events.

Todd Brown, director of community services for the club, said it’s been an emotional journey being able to assist the families as they find work, get accustomed to life in a new city and in the case of children, go to school.

The Rotary Club, he said, has worked closely with LFS and has gotten strong support from businesses and residents here.

“Our job is to provide that support after they meet with LFS,” Brown said in Panchenko’s home.

About 200 Ukrainian evacuees are currently living in Lethbridge, he said, with his club assisting a total of roughly 65. He called southern Alberta an ideal place for them thanks to employment opportunities in the agricultural sector.

“Lethbridge is kind of a perfect fit,” added Brown.

Among the traditional 12 Ukraine dishes Panchenko prepared for last night was a brilliant red vegetable borscht, its aroma filling her home.

Another staple is Kutia, a sort of porridge made of ingredients wheat, rice, walnuts, poppyseed, raisins and honey.

Also on the traditional menu are holubtsi or cabbage rolls, mushroom gravy, varenyky – pirogies stuffed with cabbage, marinated mushrooms, fish, vegetables, and pampushky – buns made of yeast dough and Ukrainian bread.

“We are so grateful to the Canadian people,” said Panchenko through Mykoliachuk. “We met many volunteers who wanted to help. Thanks for everybody who wanted to help us. They are supporting us to start a new life in Canada.”

According to recent media reports, due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine many Ukrainians, both inside and outside the country, are now choosing to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25 utilizing the date set in the Gregorian calendar, rather than the Orthodox church’s traditional Jan. 7 date under the Julian calendar, which is often associated with Russia.

Follow @albeebHerald on Twitter

Share this story:

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments