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Ukrainian families celebrate orthodox Christmas, thank community for support

Displaced Ukrainian families who left Europe for Cranbrook celebrated their holiday season with a community dinner featuring cultural dishes, Christmas carols and traditional garb on Sunday (Jan. 8) evening at Christ Church Anglican.
Ukrainian families displaced by war celebrate Christmas and thank the Cranbrook community with food and carols during an event at Christ Church Anglican on Sunday (Jan. 8). Trevor Crawley photo.

Displaced Ukrainian families who left Europe for Cranbrook celebrated their holiday season with a community dinner featuring cultural dishes, Christmas carols and traditional garb on Sunday (Jan. 8) evening at Christ Church Anglican.

The event, organized directly by the families, served both as an expression of gratitude to the Cranbrook community, which has stepped up in countless ways to support the Shelter for Ukrainians Society, while also doubling as the monthly vigil in solidarity with Ukraine against Russia’s military invasion.

The evening also celebrated Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas, which is marked on Jan. 7 according to the Julian calendar (as opposed to the Gregorian calendar, which marks the date on Dec. 25).

Tetiana Sokolenko, who came to Cranbrook as a student a few years before the war broke out, said the families wished to do something to thank the community and people involved with the Shelter for Ukrainians Society.

“We decided it’d be a great thing to create a holiday, something special for our directors, for Canadian volunteers and everyone who has been participating to help Ukrainians,” said Sokolenko. “So we did it as a secret from all the directors.”

“…We just wanted to say a huge thank you for all the East Kootenay and all the volunteers who did so much for Ukrainians and who keep doing so much for Ukrainians.”

Sokolenko is also assisting the shelter society with efforts to bring displaced Ukrainians to Cranbrook.

“I’ve been very honoured to work with such a group of dedicated people and volunteers who spend their time and money and don’t want anything in return,” Sokolenko said. “My heart is full of love and respect and I’m so happy that I ended up here.”

Before and after the dinner, Ukrainian families also performed traditional carols, such as “Shchedryk,” the melody of which was used as inspiration for “Carol of the Bells.”

Iryna Khvits led presentations on the Ukrainian orthodox Christmas season, with celebrations beginning on Jan. 6 (Julian calendar Christmas Eve). Families gather and wait until sighting the first star in the night sky, signifying the star of Bethlehem, to sit down for Sviata Vecheria (Holy Supper), typically a vegetarian based meal, with meat dishes to follow the next day.

Afterwards, carols (or Koliadky) are sung around the table or families head out to the streets to serenade the community.

Instead of Santa Claus, homes are visited by Ded Moroz, which translates to ‘Grandfather Frost’, who is accompanied by his granddaughter, Snegurochka, which translates to “Snow Maiden.”

In a letter addressed to Shelter Society directors and the Cranbrook community at large, Tetiana Pletnova described her family’s circumstances leaving Ukraine and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to settle in the city.

“I could not even imagine that I would meet such wonderful, open-hearted people here, that they would give me so much help and support,” Pletnova wrote. ” My family ran away from the war twice. The first time we left Donetsk in 2014 for Kyiv. And then in 2022 from Kyiv to Canada, Nowhere else have I met such a kind attitude, such sympathy, and support, as here.

“We feel at home here. Thanks to all of you my family is now safe here in Canada, far away from war. We have everything we need and even more. Starting a new life with a clean slate is difficult, but you made it much easier. I really appreciate everything you have done for us.”

The Shelter for Ukrainians Society was formalized as a non profit early last year, with the goal of assisting Ukrainian families and individuals fleeing the war to settle in Cranbrook and the East Kootenay region.

In total, the Society has helped bring over 58 people, 54 of which remain in the East Kootenay between Cranbrook, Creston, Kimberley and Sparwood.

Bonnie Spence-Vinge, the president of the society, lauded the community and volunteers for efforts to support Ukrainian families who are relocating to the area.

“The community has been tremendous, with open and eager support,” said Spence-Vinge.

The Society has worked with employers and WorkBC to help the adults secure jobs, while also working with the three different school districts and Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL) to get children enrolled into area schools.

Currently, there are approximately 11 people over in Ukraine or Europe who have inquired into the society about the possibility of relocating to Cranbrook and Canada, Spence-Vinge added.

In terms of needs, the most prominent ongoing issue is housing.

The society has built up a network of host families who serve as hosts when new families relocate to the area. While most families have been able to find (typically) rental housing at this time, the concern is for the future if there is a sudden influx of new arrivals.

The shelter society also hosts monthly vigils in solidarity with Ukraine, which are also hosted on the first Sunday of the month at Christ Church Anglican.

It has been nearly one year since the Russian military launched an invasion into Ukraine.

More information, including volunteer opportunities, or other ways to assist, can be found on the Shelter for Ukrainian Society website.

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Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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