Chilliwack resident Al Rempel is raising money to send to his three cousins in one of the worst war-ravaged parts of Ukraine so they can continue to do heroic humanitarian work.
After a Facebook post he put up a few days ago, Rempel said he has already raised $18,000 – by Thursday (March 17) at noon – money that is getting in the hands of his relatives on the front lines so they can buy food, medicine and fuel.
Olga, Natasha and Lena, who are between the ages of 49 and 52, are in Zaporizhzhia on the Dnieper River 560 kilometres south of Kyiv and just 225 kilometres northwest of hard-hit Mariupol.
Rempel has been in contact with Olga about every eight hours at least, so at least three times a day, where he receives updates on the fighting. Olga has sent messages of what is happening, but also images from the war zone.
“Hello Al, today the night was relatively calm, but at 5:10 in the morning there was an explosion,” Olga wrote on Thursday. “In the morning they reported that a shell had exploded at the railway station. The station stands without windows and another shell did not explode in the botanical garden.
“When we wake up in the morning to the crowing of roosters, it seems like the war was a dream, but then comes the realization of reality.”
A day before, Olga told Rempel the Russian army fired on a column of vehicles attempting to flee the area and five people were injured, including a four-year-old child.
On Wednesday, Olga and her husband Anatoly drove along damaged roads, at one point behind Ukrainian tanks, to get to Anatoly’s mother’s house. It had been destroyed by Russian shelling, but amazingly she was not injured.
“For several days they sat in the basement of a house destroyed without light and heat,” Olga told Rempel via Facebook Messenger.
“They say they don’t fear death but they do fear being captured,” Rempel told The Progress. “I asked her, ‘What are the Ukrainian people saying they think is Putin’s end game?’ Her grandfather lived through Hitler’s regime, and she said ‘To us Putin’s goal is the same as Hitler: the destruction of the civilian population. There is so much cruelty. There can only be one conclusion, complete takeover.’”
So why do they not flee?
Rempel said Olga responded to that question: “We have a responsibility to help the people who are still staying around, who are trapped or who can’t leave.”
Rempel said people he barely knows, some long-lost relatives and others, have donated generously to help his cousins do their humanitarian work. He said the Vancity has been amazing, not only waiving fees and setting it up so Olga and her sisters can access the donated money in online bank accounts to buy the needed supplies, but the credit union even made a donation.
“In this difficult time, your help is a huge support for us,” Olga said in a message this week. “Anatoly buys a lot of food every day and delivers to the injured people. He has to fill up the car a lot when they take people out of the war zone, at high speed on broken roads … but thanks to your help they can continue to serve others.”
Asked if it was OK to share their location and their first names, Olga said she was fine with it.
“The more people who know about the atrocities the better.”
And while Rempel has received many donations, he is not a registered charity so cannot issue tax receipts and he’s not pleading for more money himself in response to this story. He knows other more established groups are a better source for people to donate to, such as the Red Cross or Hungry For Life International, which is based here in Chilliwack.
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