Ukrainian members of the 2008-09 Canada World Youth exchange dress in their traditional clothing for an event in Port Alberni 13 years ago. (PHOTO COURTESY BEN SCHEIDEGGER)

Ukrainian members of the 2008-09 Canada World Youth exchange dress in their traditional clothing for an event in Port Alberni 13 years ago. (PHOTO COURTESY BEN SCHEIDEGGER)

Canada-Ukraine exchange students return to B.C. town to help and to remember

2008-09 Canada World Youth students spent three months in Ukraine and three months in Alberni

In 2009, a delegation of Canada World Youth participants from Canada and Ukraine spent three months in the Alberni Valley working on service projects, staying with host families and getting to know the community.

Now, 13 years later, some of the Canadian delegates will return to host a Ukrainian cultural night fundraiser in honour of their Ukrainian counterparts.

The arrival of 18 delegates—nine from the Ukraine, nine from across Canada—marked the first time in seven years that Canada World Youth had a presence in the Alberni Valley. The delegates ranged in age from 17 to 21 years, and had already spent three months in Ostroh, western Ukraine by the time they arrived in Port Alberni.

Some of the group stayed in touch over the years while others moved on. The war between Russia and Ukraine reunited the CWY members via an online group chat.

Nicolas Rivard said he had been following news of the conflict for a few weeks. “It affected me a lot more than I thought it would,” he said from his home in Montreal. “It’s a big part of my life. It was a long time ago but I was very young…it was a very formative experience.”

Rivard taught English to Ostroh university students who were the same age as he was at the time. When in Port Alberni he volunteered at Abbeyfield House.

A recent video chat with some of their Ukraine counterparts was emotional. “We feel powerless because we can’t do much from here,” Rivard said.

“It’s kind of unfortunate that it took this war to rekindle these relationships,” said Ben Scheidegger, one of the Canadian participants now living in Vancouver. He said it’s difficult to put into words how he feels about what is happening in Ukraine right now.

Like Rivard, Scheidegger said it has affected him more than he expected.

“To get messages from my friends who I went to this program with that ‘we’re hiding in basements, we’re fleeing the city, we’re getting bombed’…it’s hard to hear.”

The four CWY members who are still in B.C.—in Williams Lake, Vancouver, Nanaimo and Courtenay—want to recreate the Ukrainian Cultural Night they held back in 2009. They have planned a fundraising dinner for Saturday, March 19 at 5:30 p.m. in the Kinsmen Community Centre.

“We did a very similar event 13 years ago when we were in Port Alberni,” Scheidegger said. “It was mostly for host families and people we were close with.”

The 2022 event won’t be as elaborate as that night, said Scheidegger, but it will include some Ukrainian food and music, possibly some dancing, and a presentation on the exchange program that brought people from all over Canada and Ukraine to Port Alberni.

Scheidegger is hoping to be able to share a video with messages from some of the Ukrainian delegates, but notes it may be difficult for them to get those messages out depending on their circumstances.

Community members in the Alberni Valley are assisting the former CWY members, from donations of the hall rental to food.

The Ukrainian Solidarity Dinner will take place Saturday, March 19 at 5:30 p.m. in the Kinsmen Community Centre, #30-4090 Hollywood St., at the Alberni District Fall Fairgrounds. Entry is by donation to either the Canada-Ukraine Foundation or Ukrainian World Congress, and donations may be made by using a Smart phone. People interested in attending are asked to register through their EventBrite link, https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/ukrainian-solidarity-dinner-tickets-293608459807.

Organizers chose this method for making donations because they aren’t a charitable organization, they are 10 people who want to make a difference, however small it may be, Scheidegger said.

“For the 10 of us, we want to maybe make our friends smile for five minutes and know we’re there with them as much as we can be.”

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