Clutching new donations of towels instead of shiny backpacks and school supplies Friday, Ukrainian refugees Adam and Celine Albishchemko put into perspective how little these children have ahead of going back to school in Nanaimo next week.
Yet they were smiling, and hopeful that new friends and a fresh start are just days away.
“And I’m going in Grade 1,” said 5-year-old Celine Albishchemko, a Ukrainian refugee living in Nanaimo for the past five weeks.
“They are so excited. They love it so much,” said Ukrainian refugee and mother of two Nadiya Albishchemko.
They are some of the 20 children from Ukraine who will be attending Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District this coming year, who have become close-to-family to Sandy Kosolowsky of Sandy’s Ukrainian Kitchen in Nanaimo.
Kosolowsky’s handiwork in making piles of perogies and borscht and hosting fundraisers has raised $66,000 for Ukraine relief efforts, in addition to hosting eight families and two women fleeing their homes and the war in Ukraine.
“They’re so thankful. The children are so thankful,” said Kosolowsky, owner of Sandy’s Ukrainian Kitchen.
“I miss my home so much. My home was very big. It was so beautiful and I liked it,” said Adam Albishchemko, a 9-year-old Ukrainian refugee living in Nanaimo with his mother and sister.
“They’ve had different experiences now, so it will make them stronger,” said Nadiya Albishchemko, reflecting on the war’s effects on her children.
A pickle jar that sits at Sandy’s cash register has raised $8,000 to support the families so far, but Kosolowsky said what they need now are gift cards to help get their kids back to school.
“So they can choose what they want for shoes, what they want for clothing,” said Kosolowsky.
The grandmother, and now adopted Baba to many refugees, is asking something too of the Island’s kids.
“Please if you’re in school, kids, no picking on them because a lot of them can’t speak fluent english. Help them, you know, no bullying. Just give them a hand. Give them a hug. Tell them you’re there for them,” said Kosolowsky.
Up to 700 Ukrainian refugees have moved to the mid-Island in recent months. According to Kosolowsky, many are already employed and with their children returning to school, it will bring one more step toward the feeling of home and safety that they’re missing.