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Ottawa families watched in horror as Ukraine was attacked. Janhabi Nandy writes about how their crisis became ours

Judit Marton held a fundraiser in support of Ukraine. Photo Courtesy Judit Marton

Judit Marton watched the news coverage of Russia’s attack on Ukraine with increasing anxiety. Her concern for her daughter, living and working in neighbouring Poland, grew deeper as her empathy for Ukrainians caught in conflict grew stronger. One night, unable to sleep with worry, Marton realized that instead of stressing about events she couldn’t influence, she could redirect her energy to something positive.

The next day, Marton called a friend and fellow musician to suggest they take their orchestral instruments to the ByWard Market to play some music, put out a hat, and see if they could raise some money for Ukraine.

This simple plan snowballed into a community event, as other musicians — many of them strangers — asked to join. Marton reached out to local Ukrainian musical ensembles and a world-famous Ukrainian violinist, to organize two days of outdoor concerts. As the show became more elaborate, Marton asked community organizations and businesses to support the event and received free performance space, advertising, sound equipment and decorations.  

Judit Marton’s two-day musical event raised $11,000 for Ukraine. Photo Courtesy Judit Marton

The shows not only raised $11,000 for Ukraine, they also boosted the spirits of those who attended. One audience member shared that being at the concert was “a little healing for the soul.” The giving continued after an attendee connected with Marton to ask for guidance in organizing her own musical fundraiser.

“I feel stronger,” says Marton following her event. “I can’t change the world, but can do a little bit. We can’t just close our eyes. I was so stuck; I feel like I can go on now.  When we give back, we end up understanding each other a little more. It’s not about stuff and status, it’s about making the world a little bit brighter.”

Ashlee Mulligan would agree. Last December, her sister and mother set out to document their family history. In the process, Mulligan learned that some of her ancestors had immigrated to Canada from Ukraine; and that 100 years ago, they persevered in a new country with the support of strangers who took them in.

When events unfolded in Ukraine earlier this year, the stories of displaced Ukrainians resonated deeply with Mulligan. She started following threads on social media, asking for donations. Shortly before Easter, Mulligan took her young children to Costco to pack a car full of supplies to send abroad; her kids were insistent that along with practical essentials, she include chocolate Easter eggs for their unknown counterparts far away.

Ottawa’s Mulligan family. Photo Courtesy Ashlee Mulligan

Mulligan and her family decided to open their home to emigrating Ukrainians. A social media exchange of information with a young Ukrainian mom led to a video call, which turned into an invitation to strangers to come live with the Ottawa-based family. As Mulligan realized what she was taking on — settling a family of six with nothing but a backpack between them — she asked family, friends, neighbours, and local businesses for support. The people she’d approached were generous, and the Ukrainian guest family has received closets worth of new clothes and shoes, potential employment opportunities, carpeting for the basement where they will stay and donated flights from Ukraine to Canada.

Describing the experience of her young kids in this time, Mulligan says: “When they first heard about this war, it led to emotions they didn’t know how to process. Now, it makes them feel like they are helping. Every day they talk about welcoming the family.” 

Carleen Ridley has been making stained glass art for 35 years, for herself, for gifts and sometimes, to sell when commissioned. When the Red Cross asked for donations to support Ukrainians, she donated, but thought to herself, ‘what more can I do?’ She turned to her artistic pursuit and crafted a sunflower, the national flower of Ukraine, and posted on social media that she would auction it and donate the funds to the Red Cross. With matching funds, the sunflower raised $400 for Ukraine. Ridley considers it a small thing, but she hopes that whoever purchased it enjoys it as much as she loved making it, a process she called “cathartic.” Earlier in the winter, Ridley and her husband decorated a path near their home with ice ornaments commemorating the conflict in Ukraine, they included sunflowers, as well as Ukrainian flags. As neighbours walked the path, Ridley hoped that her art “brought joy to people – and reflection on the blessings we have as we remember the people who are struggling.”

Carleen Ridley crafted a stained glass sunflower as a fundraiser. Photo Courtesy Carleen Ridley