Former Strathmore resident on the ground to aid Ukrainian refugees

·3 min read

A former Strathmore resident and her husband are on a mission to provide aid to Ukrainian refugees in any way they can, and to help bring people into Canada.

Rebecca Rider and Michael Garnett decided at the onset of the Russian invasion into Ukraine to do everything in their power to help relief efforts both in Canada and within Ukraine.

“I’m three quarters Ukrainian … my family’s all from that region (and) came over 100 years ago, maybe 125 years ago,” said Garnett. “I grew up in the community with Ukrainian food, heritage, and traditions very near and dear to my heart. When this started, I was just devastated, and it was really affecting me emotionally.”

Garnett, who had both a kindred background and Russian language experience, felt he would be a useful asset to contribute to relief efforts on the ground.

Rider, upon seeing her husband’s motivation, was right behind him.

“When the war started, I was just returning to work after having time off during the pandemic and because of that, when I saw how upset Michael was, I told him ‘Absolutely you need to be going, you need to go help and I’ll come join you as soon as I can’,” explained Rider.

The couple’s first trip overseas saw them on the ground at the beginning of April. Rider stayed for two weeks before having to return to work, while Garnett remained for a full month.

Rider described the situation on the ground in Ukraine as “unnerving” with many fleeing refugees taking as little as a shopping bag’s worth of essentials as they scrambled to flee active combat zones.

“Our first trip, we saw the worst of the worst of the war, these people had escaped with nothing, they had no plan, they were so scared and so unsure of their future,” said Rider. “It’s very unnerving because there are air raid sirens going off every day and you never know when the city could be hit. We felt like limiting our time there was in our best interest for safety.”

The first trip, Rider explained, was primarily spent shuttling people in a rented van to the Polish border. Their second trip was spent working with humanitarian aid centres and using donations to purchase essential supplies for those passing through.

The couple added they have decided to maintain their efforts to aid Ukrainian refugees over the long term, be it on the ground in Europe, or working to bring people into Canada.

Currently, they have established a GoFundMe page to raise money for air travel. In the long term, the couple intends to launch a more formal non-profit to continue aiding relief efforts on a larger scale.

“We just see that … we’re going to have long term involvement in this conflict and just helping the Ukrainian people, even after this war is over,” said Rider. “We’re working with a team in Warsaw to help transport refugees … so that’s taking up a huge amount of our time, (as well as) fundraising the remainder of the cost for these tickets, but also coordinating people to Canada.”

Garnett and Rider have decided to cover the entirety of their overhead costs themselves so that 100 per cent of the donations raised through their GoFundMe go towards aiding Ukrainian refugees.

Those who are interested in supporting their cause can do so through the campaign at https://www.gofundme.com/f/garnett-rider-ukrainian-refugee-fund

John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times

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