FOR Patricia Maruschak, providing aid for embattled Ukraine is both professional and personal.
As the director of partnerships and programs for Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, an organization headquartered in Toronto operated by the Anglican Church of Canada, it’s her job to help direct relief to residents of the war-torn eastern European country.
But it’s also personal for the Winnipeg-based Maruschak, a 53-year-old mother of two teenage boys whose ancestors came to Canada from Ukraine.
"The first weeks of the war were so upsetting," said Maruschak, who started her job with the fund four days after the war started Feb. 24.
"It was hard to focus. I felt guilty feeling happy here in Canada when people were dying in Ukraine. How could I celebrate anything in life when that was happening?"
What helps Maruschak deal with her anger about the war is being actively involved in programming aid.
To date, the fund has received more than $650,000 in donations from Anglicans across Canada. It is using the money to support two European aid groups assisting Ukrainian refugees with food, shelter, water and other needed items, along with supporting two organizations in Ukraine.
One of the Ukrainian groups the fund supports assists disabled people who are fleeing the fighting, while the other provides specialized medical supplies to first responders.
"PWRDF’s goal is to support local organizations as much as possible," she said, adding it is exploring support for other Ukrainian groups that assist children impacted by the war.
"Ukraine has a vibrant civil society, with lots of organizations doing a great job of serving their country any way possible."
The fund also wants to create long-term partnerships with Ukrainian groups for when the war is over and the country is being rebuilt.
"When rebuilding happens, it will need to be done by Ukrainians, not international groups. We want to support that," she said.
Maruschak has spent more than 20 years in international relief and development work, including with Canadian Lutheran World Relief and the Manitoba Council for International Co-operation. She also lived and worked in Ukraine from 2006 to 2010.
"I still have friends and former colleagues in that country, and some relatives," Maruschak said, noting she knows some of the places and neighbourhoods she sees bombed and destroyed on the news.
"It’s heartbreaking to hear how their lives have been shattered."
In addition to assisting people in Ukraine through the fund, Maruschak — who speaks Ukrainian — is involved through her church, Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral on Main Street in Winnipeg, where she is working with others to help resettle refugees from Ukraine.
The crisis has brought new people to the church who are looking for ways to help.
"If they end up becoming more involved in the church, that’s great," she said. "If they don’t, that’s fine. As long as we can work together to do what we can, that’s all that matters."
She also helped bring a cousin and her son to Winnipeg in April.
"They have adjusted well, although they miss their husband and father who stayed behind," Maruschak said.
At the same time, Maruschak is also focused on needs in other countries experiencing conflict — such as South Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq and Bangladesh.
"It’s easy for the needs in those places to be forgotten due to the war in Ukraine," she said, adding the fund is matching the amount donated for Ukraine to help other places in the developing world where fighting is impacting people.
"The needs are great, and I get a chance to do something to make a difference every day," Maruschak said, adding the important thing is for everyone "to show up and do what they can to help."
Those who wish can donate to the fund’s work in Ukraine at pwrdf.org.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.