Donation drive seeks to deter Russian tanks

When Alyssa Rempel saw the horrible images coming from the war in Ukraine, she wanted to do something to help. So she bought a hedgehog… anti-tank obstacle.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/03/2022 (196 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When Alyssa Rempel saw the horrible images coming from the war in Ukraine, she wanted to do something to help. So she bought a hedgehog… anti-tank obstacle.

The 43-year-old Winnipegger traces her ancestry to Ukraine. Both sides of her family came from the eastern European country; Mennonite on her father’s side, Ukrainian on her mother’s.

One-hundred years ago, she said, her father’s side of the family was fleeing violence and war in that region for safety in Canada.

“And here today, people are suffering from war again,” she said. “Meanwhile, we go on with our lives. We go to work, go home. They don’t have any of that.”

“People are suffering from war again… Meanwhile, we go on with our lives. We go to work, go home. They don’t have any of that.” – Alyssa Rempel

Rempel started by making donations for humanitarian relief. But she wanted to do more — especially after she learned a cousin, Dmytro Vasyuta, 21, had been killed in the Russian invasion.

“His death shocked me,” she said. “He was so young.”

While scrolling through Instagram a week ago, she came across Leafelle, a natural beauty products business owned by Yuliya Mykytyuk of Winnipeg.

Rempel was impressed by Mykytyuk’s admiration for the brave people of Ukraine, about how they were standing up to the Russians despite the bombing and shelling, and what she was doing to help people in that country.

“Just the way she wrote about it moved me,” said Rempel.

What also caught her attention was an opportunity to donate to help make a hedgehog — an anti-tank obstacle built out of metal beams — in Ukraine.

Rempel realized it was a way to help defend Ukrainian towns and cities from Russian aggression in a way that didn’t violate her Mennonite pacifist roots.

“It’s for defence, it’s not a weapon,” she said. “I have no qualms about supporting this.”

“It’s for defence, it’s not a weapon… I have no qualms about supporting this.” – Alyssa Rempel

As a bonus, Rempel learned she could put a message on “her” hedgehog. Rempel decided to use her mother’s Ukrainian family name: “Vasytua’s stand with Ukraine,” it says.

Mykytyuk, 41, came to Winnipeg from Ukraine in 2004 with her husband Yuriy Hlukh. When the war started, they were in shock and wanted to do something to help.

They started by holding raffles through Mykytyuk’s business to raise funds to assist children flee the fighting, and also to buy medical supplies and tactical gear for Ukrainian defenders.

One evening, the couple was watching the TV news and saw a report about a small business in Lviv making hedgehogs — military barriers developed in the 1930s — to help defend the country.

SUPPLIED Yuliya Mykytyuk and her husband Yuriy Hlukh sent $350 from the funds raised from the raffles, enough to buy two hedgehogs — one with “Winnipeg, Canada” painted on it, and “Friendly Manitoba” on the other.

Hlukh, a civil engineer, was startled to realize he knew the business owner. After contacting him, he learned they had started making the obstacles after his regular business — repairing campers — had dried up due to the war.

What he needed, Hlukh said, was money for steel to make more hedgehogs; they were getting no government support or other outside funds.

“We decided to help him out,” Hlukh said. The couple sent $350 from the funds raised from the raffles, enough to buy two hedgehogs — one with “Winnipeg, Canada” painted on it, and “Friendly Manitoba” on the other.

“It was just like putting a name on a park bench here,” said Hlukh.

SUPPLIED (Pictured) “Winnipeg, Canada” hedgehog. Yuliya Mykytyuk and her husband Yuriy Hlukh started by holding raffles through Mykytyuk’s business to raise funds to assist children flee the fighting, and also to buy medical supplies and tactical gear for Ukrainian defenders.

They also posted about the effort on social media; Rempel was the first person to donate.

“If it can be used to save one town or one family, it’s worth it,” Rempel said.

The donors don’t know where the barriers are deployed, Mykytyuk said. All they know is they are sent east, “where they are needed most.”

While raising money and other needed items makes the couple feel less helpless, they still worry about family; Mykytyuk’s parents live in the western part of Ukraine.

“They are safe for now,” she said, adding: “Going to bed at night is hard. I’m afraid to check my phone in the morning. I don’t know what to expect.”

“They (Mykytyuk’s parents) are safe for now… Going to bed at night is hard. I’m afraid to check my phone in the morning. I don’t know what to expect.” – Yuliya Mykytyuk

Noting bombs had fallen 12 kilometres from where her parents live, Hlukh added: “There is no place that is safe in Ukraine today.”

People seeking to contribute to buy a hedgehog ($175 each) can do so by e-mail (hedgehogukraine@gmail.com).

fpcity@freepress.mb.ca

RODRIGO ABD / ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO Anti-tank barriers set up at a check point in Maidan Square, in Kyiv, Ukraine.
John Longhurst

John Longhurst
Faith reporter

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.

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