When the 18 members of Canada World Youth’s Ukraine-Canada exchange got off the bus in front of Haahuupayak School in November 2008, it was the first time in seven years that CWY had chosen Port Alberni as a destination.
It didn’t take long for the volunteers to leave their mark on our city. They were here for three months and volunteered at different places, from seniors’ facilities to helping set up for Winter Wonderland that year.
People who interacted with the exchange students have been recalling their time in Port Alberni, especially since Russia started its war with Ukraine. City councillor Ron Paulson, who was working at the AV Multiplex and supervising the World U-17 Hockey Challenge at the time, has fond memories of the volunteers. He received an email from Svitlana Winters, who was the Ukrainian supervisor for the CWY group, updating him on what the Ukrainian volunteers have been doing since they were in Port Alberni. Winters has kept in touch with Paulson over the years, including a visit in 2014 when she dropped into the arena.
Winters returned to Canada to do her PhD in Linguistics, graduating in 2018 and working as a researcher at a market research company in Calgary. She lives there now with her husband Steve and their three-year-old daughter. Winters said her family is in Ukraine, between Lviv and Kyiv, and they are safe—for now.
“Their town is very close to a nuclear power plant,” she said, and with Russia’s preoccupation with nuclear warfare “we are worried. There is bombing and shelling close to where my sister lives, so they have to hide in underground shelters a lot.”
Halia, another Ukrainian exchange student, worked as a translator and moved to Kyiv with her husband. She now works at a tech company in Kyiv, but was able to escape with her son to Lviv. Kolia works as a freelance editor, but Winters had not heard from him since the invasion.
Paulson choked up when he read parts of the update at Saturday’s Ukrainian Solidarity dinner, put on by four Canadian CWY members. Videos from Winters and Halia were also shared before the end of the evening.
“Everything we do in life is a part of history,” Paulson said. “The Ukrainian group and Canadian youth that were here with them had a profound impact on our community.”
On Saturday, the community showed participants exactly how much of an impact it was: more than 120 people attended the fundraising dinner and raised money to help Ukraine in its war against Russia.
“It makes me proud to be from Port Alberni when you look around and see the people here,” Paulson said.
— Susie Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor.