‘It’s only natural to try and help’: Ukrainians in the Maritimes travel home to help during crisis

If you ask Anna Kovalchuk, she’ll tell you she isn’t brave. Ella she’ll say that rushing into Ukraine soon after Russia invaded was natural.

“This is my home and to me it’s only natural to try to help and protect because I love this place, and it’s natural for me to try to preserve what I love,” Kovalchuk said.

In the past two weeks, the world, and her world, has changed. The former Mount Allison University student was working at The Moncton Hospital in Moncton, NB, as a nurse. Now, she’s volunteering at hospitals in central Ukraine and coordinating deliveries of vital medical supplies.

“I realize that what I’m doing is just a tiny, tiny drop in the ocean. And I’m only doing like, one per cent of what people actually need but I just feel like one per cent, or a tiny drop, is still more than a zero,” she said.

The war has led to bombed out bridges and roads and ultimately disrupted supply chains. But life lines such as medical support continue to flow in from neighboring countries.

It’s part of Kovalchuk’s job to retrieve the supplies, such as when they arrived from Moldova this week.

Kovalchuk’s friends in New Brunswick have also sent aid.

Oleksandr Rekhnyuk of Moncton, NB, carried the cargo from New Brunswick to Ukraine’s border with Poland. He has received a video confirming it’s now in the hands of the Ukrainian army.

“We did it together really, we did,” Rekhnyuk said.

Since Monday, Rekhnyuk has been volunteering as a driver at a refugee center near the Polish and Ukrainian border. At night, he’s sleeping in a gymnasium full of mattresses for the operation. By day, he’s shuttling people to buses and trying to lighten their load with a sense of hope.

“A lot of people I see in their eyes they are afraid. Afraid where to go, what to do, how it will be,” he said.

While he’s been touched by countless interactions with people who describe escaping after spending days underground, one interaction especially stands out.

He dropped a mother and her children off at a train station and wished them well.

“And she hugged me,” he said. “It was so honest. I can’t explain. You need to feel it if somebody appreciates it. You can just feel, you can’t explain.”

War was never something either wanted to witness. But neither could bare to just watch from Canada.

At the hospitals, Kovalchuk said she’s seen a lot of young people.

“It pains to see them suffer like this because personally I can’t understand the reason behind this. And to me it’s hard to justify this suffering. It’s hard to justify why it’s happening,” she said.

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