Ukrainian newcomers who escaped the war in their home country are preparing to celebrate their first Christmas on Vancouver Island.
Newcomers living at Victoria’s Ukrainian Village told CHEK News emotions are high, but Canadians are bringing some holiday cheer.
Mira Balokha, and her two-year-old daughter Mariia, moved to the village just three weeks ago after fleeing Ukraine.
“We left everything behind, we lost a lot,” Balokha said. “You think your life is over. It’s really hard.”
She explained that moving this close to the holidays and away from family put major stress on her and her daughter, but those running the Ukrainian Village have put a lot of work into bringing some holiday magic back.
“Every day we are receiving some small gifts and presents. It’s so exciting to wake up and see what we will have today,” Balokha said.
The daily presents range from chocolate to a small present, almost like an advent calendar.
“I’m so happy and lucky to be here,” she added. “They really care. It’s like a family.”
Karmen McNamara, general manager of Help Ukraine VI Society, said they are trying to do their best to make a special Christmas.
She said the society is trying to limit the emotional and financial stress Ukrainian newcomers could be facing by organizing celebrations and collecting Christmas presents.
An Amazon wish list has been set up for people looking to donate presents for the families.
“The reason we created the wish list is so we can ensure people are actually getting what they need and that we are able to distribute it to the people that we have,” McNamara said.
People can browse the list and purchase those items on the website, then they will be shipped straight to the village.
McNamara said cash donations are also needed for food and other supplies.
Donations can be made on the Help Ukraine VI website.
Help Ukraine VI said it’s doing its best to combine both Canadian and Ukrainian Christmas traditions.
McNamara told CHEK News about half of the Ukrainian newcomers celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, and the other half celebrate Ukrainian Christmas in January.
“So we are trying to spread it out and have this big two weeks of holidays,” she said.
Over the weekend, the society held Christmas parties in Nanaimo and the Comox Valley.
On Sunday, Victoria’s Ukrainian Cultural Centre hosted a Christmas market.
At the Ukrainian Village, volunteers have helped decorate a Christmas tree and set up activities for the families.
This included baking, letters to Santa and an Elf on the Shelf making it’s way through the halls.
McNamara said on Christmas day, the village will host a traditional Christmas dinner for the residents.
“Turkey, stuffing, all the fun,” said McNamara. “We will probably have some Ukrainian dishes thrown in there as well.”
On Dec. 26, the Ukrainian Cultural Centre will host a traditional Ukrainian Christmas celebration for all newcomers.
The celebration will include Christmas carols, food, Ukrainian singers and musicians.
McNamara said both St. George Ukrainian Church and Ukrainian Catholic Church of St. Nicholas in January.
READ MORE FROM AUGUST: Ukrainians in Victoria hope for peace on Ukraine’s Independence Day