Shortly after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine last month, Victoria resident Stefan Kalenchuk knew he had to do something.
“When the events happened a month ago, I think like most of us, I was just trying to find a way to help in any way I could,” he said.
Kalenchuk, who has a background in sports marketing, decided the best way to help out was to use his connections in the industry and create UkraineStrong.ca, a website that sells Ukraine tryzub shirts and hoodies, with all proceeds going to charity.
“I wanted to do something so that people could physically wear something and show their support,” he says. “It feels like it is a very small thing to do but an important thing to do.”
There are currently three clothing styles available — a short sleeve t-shirt, unisex hoodie and a women’s v-neck style t-shirt — for purchase. All three shirts prominently display a tryzub, a gold trident that makes up the Ukrainian coat of arms. They also feature a yellow armband with a glowing heart around the Ukrainian flag on the sleeve, which is intended to symbolize support for citizens who have stayed behind to defend the country.
Kalenchuk says the tryzub is a national symbol in Ukraine — like the maple leaf is to Canada — and personifies what it means to be “Ukraine Strong.”
“It’s a relatively simple initiative and straightforward way to show support,” he says.
Purchasers can choose to donate the proceeds to either the Canadian Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders or the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. There is also the option to have the proceeds donated evenly among the three charities. In either case, all donations come with a tax receipt.
“All of the money goes directly to those charities and you do get a tax receipt as well. So you will see your money at work and you’ll obviously get a nice piece of merchandise to show that you stand with the people of Ukraine,” he says.
“I know that there are possibly some bad actors out there, so we wanted to be as transparent as possible.”
Kalenchuk has raised nearly $3,000 already and is hoping to raise $10,000. He says most shirts sold out quickly and has ordered more to keep pace with demand.
“When you are starting something like this there is obviously a hard cost to myself, so I wanted to kind of go incremental and go with one order,” he says. “We have sold out completely of our t-shirts in our first run and our hoodies as well and have just a couple of women’s tees left, so we have had to reorder.”
The three charities, Canadian Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and Ukrainian Canadian Congress, were all chosen because of their reputation, Kalenchuk’s familiarity with them, and their ability to provide support to the people of Ukraine.
“My mom has done some work with [the Ukrainian Canadian Congress] in Winnipeg and there are some people on the board that I know there, so when all this was happening, I reach out to understand some of the things that they are doing,” he says. “They are directly involved with a lot of contacts in Ukraine but are also trying to bring refugees into Canada and creating programs for them and things like that.”
For Kalenchuk, the desire to help those in Ukraine is personal. His great-grandparents immigrated from Ukraine in the early 1900s and the traditions they brought with them have remained in his family for generations. He also has some family members currently in western Ukraine.
“I have a Ukrainian background. I grew up with the Ukrainian traditions of my grandparents and my parents and I felt a good connection with the country,” he says. “We do have family, I don’t know them really well but my mom has reconnected with them, so it feels like a lot closer to home.”
To purchase a hoodie or t-shirt visit www.ukrainestrong.ca.