How This Canadian Charity is Getting Aid to Ukraine

Ukrainian-Canadian charity Help Us Help is sending medical supplies and providing humanitarian aid to the country's most vulnerable.

Help Us Help Ukraine Daniel EhrenworthPhoto: Daniel Ehrenworth
Help Us Help’s Kira Antonyshyn.

On February 28, 2022, four days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Alyssa Martschenko, a 22-year-old recent university graduate, began spending nine hours a day in a small warehouse in Toronto, managing donations and sorting and packing Band-Aids, alcohol wipes, medical tape, gauze and more. She was one of several volunteers who answered the call of Help Us Help, a Ukrainian-Canadian charitable organization.

Before the invasion, Help Us Help had focused on providing education and humanitarian aid to some of Ukraine’s 200,000 orphans and 42,000 veterans and their families. Now, the more pressing need is to get emergency triage kits to volunteer medics treating wounded civilians after bomb and missile strikes. As of early April, the organization shipped 300 boxes, together weighing more than 5,000 kilograms.

Martschenko, who has extended family in Ukraine, takes comfort in knowing she’s making a difference. “We have someone on the ground to receive the shipments and we know they’re getting to the people who need them,” she says.

She first got involved with Help Us Help four years ago, fundraising and volunteering at one of the organization’s kids’ camps in Ukraine, where disadvantaged children get a chance to play sports while also learning how to sew, cook and use a computer.

Help Us Help was established in 1993, a few years after founder Ruslana Wrzesnewskyj travelled from Canada to Ukraine to adopt a baby girl and discovered the wretched conditions—a lack of proper clothing, limited food, little hope—in the country’s orphanages. Since then, Help Us Help has sent 10,000 children to camp, given more than 400 orphans scholarships toward a post-secondary education and helped 500 veterans and their families overcome trauma through various support programs.

But for the foreseeable future, the focus will be on coping with the ongoing humanitarian crisis precipitated by the Russian invasion. “Our mission is to work with vulnerable people, and we have our work cut out for us because soon everyone will fall under that category,” says Help Us Help’s director of operations, Kira Antonyshyn, 27, who first learned about the organization as a child, doing walkathons to raise money for shoes for Ukrainian orphans.

In addition to sending medical supplies, Help Us Help is working on relocating past and present program participants out of high-risk cities in Ukraine. “We maintain contact with orphanage leaders daily, but they don’t disclose their exact locations for fear of being targeted,” says Antonyshyn. “It’s a very scary and difficult time.”

Staff and volunteers routinely send photos and videos of rallies in Toronto to their contacts in Ukraine to show them that they’re not alone. “They’re uplifted to see us supporting them, and it’s critical for us to continue to advocate for them,” Antonyshyn says.

Help Us Help has broadened its support by raising awareness about human trafficking as more and more displaced children are crossing the Ukrainian border alone. (As of March 2022, the United Nations reported that 1.5 million children had fled the country, with hundreds crossing the border unaccompanied by friends or family, making them easy targets.) The charity has also expanded its Mental Health Hub, an initiative initially launched to offer support to scholarship students during the pandemic; it’s now bringing additional psychologists to relocation centres across Ukraine.

“We’re listening to people on the ground and responding to needs as best as we’re able,” Antonyshyn says. “The Ukrainians I’ve spoken to aren’t giving up. They believe in the strength of Ukraine. They believe that Ukrainians will continue to live freely in a free country. They are truly inspiring.”

Next, find out how you can send help to Ukraine right now.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada