Mayor Mike Hurley speaks at the United for Ukraine Benefit Concert on July 17 at Edmonds Plaza. @MayorofBurnaby / Twitter

Benefit concert raises almost $70k for Ukrainian refugees in Burnaby, New West

Some of the funds will go towards providing welcome grants to Ukrainian refugees who have just arrived in the city.

By Srushti Gangdev | July 20, 2022 |5:00 am

Organizers say a concert in Burnaby over the weekend to benefit Ukrainian refugees raised just under $70,000.

The United for Ukraine Benefit Concert was held at Edmonds Plaza on July 17, and organized by New Westminster-Burnaby MP Peter Julian’s office along with the Burnaby Welcomes & Supports Ukrainian Refugees community group, Burnaby and New Westminster firefighters, and the New Westminster-based Holy Eucharist Cathedral.

Jonny Sopotiuk, one of the volunteer leads of the Burnaby Welcomes Ukrainian Refugees community group, said a lot of the credit for the fundraising goes to the Burnaby and New Westminster firefighters—who held a benefit gala earlier this year and provided a large donation this past weekend. They also matched other contributions on the day of the concert.

A large portion of the money will go towards the Canada Ukraine Foundation.

“And then a whole bunch of those resources are going directly to support Ukrainian refugees who have arrived here in Burnaby,” Sopotiuk told the Beacon.

Some of the funds will go towards providing welcome grants to refugees who have just arrived in the city, to help them find their bearings and pay for settlement costs and paperwork. The volunteer group also helps newcomers with career mentorship and errands.

“The goal is not just to provide cheques, which are super important, it’s really to build community and help connect refugees who have arrived with the resources [available].”

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Sopotiuk and other volunteers have been preparing for an influx of refugees to Burnaby and the Lower Mainland.

So far, he knows of about 30 families who have arrived here in Burnaby—and he says a lot of them have been able to come here through the generosity of strangers, and organic connections made through the Facebook group he moderates.

The group has just over 200 members, some of them Burnaby residents offering help, and some of them Ukrainian refugees seeking it.

At Sunday’s concert, one couple came up to him and told him that the group was responsible for getting them here from Ukraine.

“They had just heard about the group online, they messaged me, I invited them to the group, and they posted about themselves and what they were looking to do and come to Canada. And it was one of our neighbors in the Edmonds area who ended up paying for their flights from Warsaw for the two of them and their son,” he said.

“And so they’ve been here for a couple of weeks now. And I had no idea that had happened at all, it all happened organically and quietly through the group. So it was pretty exciting to hear and meet them in person.”

Sopotiuk and his partner have also been hosting a Ukrainian family in their own home since Easter. He likens the experience of opening up his home to strangers to building a new family—and says so far, the worst thing that’s happened is that he came home one day to find the house cleaned from top to bottom.

Sopotiuk said he started the Facebook group because he felt compelled to act after the Russian invasion “in the face of such horror”. At first, the group’s priorities were to help Ukrainian refugees find a way here and get them immediate accommodation.

But with the war still raging on, they are now working on building a “sustainable system” of support. The next step for the group will be to hold a resource fair roundtable with refugees who have chosen Burnaby as their new home.

“The family that is living with us—they’re from Kyiv, they really want to return to Kyiv one day. But I think that the hope that this will be short term is not around the corner, so now they’re starting to figure out—are they going to completely restart and build a new life in Burnaby and in Canada?” he said.

“So I think the volunteer initiatives and community organizations are shifting from providing immediate, temporary shelter to building long term plans to help people land, arrive, and then integrate into the community and start a new life.”

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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