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N.S. fisherman returns to Ukraine to provide aid and transportation to refugees

Lex Brukovskiy, a Nova Scotia lobster fisherman from Meteghan, N.S., who spent his childhood in Ukraine, has returned to the war-ravaged nation with funds to assist refugees and children. The fisherman said in an interview from Lviv that despite air raid sirens breaking up his sleep, he’s relieved to be in Ukraine assisting, as he’d felt in Canada he wasn’t able to ensure funds could reach those most in need. Brukovskiy is shown loading traps in preparation for Lobster Fishing Area 34 opening day in Meteghan, N.S. on Monday Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

Though the air raid sirens shatter his rest, Canadian fisherman Lex Brukovskiy says he’s feeling a sense of calm being back in Ukraine to help his war-ravaged homeland.

“Sitting back home and watching it, it was hard,” he said in an interview on Monday. “I feel a lot more useful here.”

Standing outside a humanitarian aid distribution centre in downtown Lviv, the bearded 38-year-old lobster fisherman from Meteghan, N.S., said via FaceTime he spends his days and nights drawing up lists of the supplies needed by refugees — particularly women and children — and then delivering what he purchases.

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And on Tuesday, he said in a followup telephone interview he’s been assigned a van to drive in a convoy that will make its way to besieged cities in eastern Ukraine with humanitarian supplies before bringing refugees back to safety.

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Brukovskiy came to Canada with his parents when he was 12 and has made frequent trips back to Ukraine for extended visits since then.

After living in Ontario, he settled on the southwestern coast of Nova Scotia in 2009, buying his boat and eventually acquiring a captain’s licence. He is currently the president of Local 9 of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, an organization that represents independent fishers around the region.

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However, Brukovskiy said he couldn’t bear remaining on his fishing vessel on the Bay of Fundy while hearing devastating news reports of the war in Ukraine. He has two children in Canada, while his mother, cousins and extended family are in Ukraine, mostly in the Lviv area.

After finding a captain to take charge of his lobster boat, Brukovskiy decided to depart in the middle of the winter fishing season, a time when he and his crew normally make a substantial portion of their annual catch.

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Despite the recurring air raid warnings, the fisherman said he’s pleased to be back in Ukraine. “I’m just doing my part, helping out. We’ve gathered up funds back in Canada and we’re distributing it where it’s needed,” he explained.

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“We’re concentrating on helping women and children refugees. There are a lot of kids who have lost their parents or can’t find their parents. And we’re seeing if we can get them clothing and medications.”

He estimates that he’s currently working with about US$20,000 in donations that has come in from friends, fishers and acquaintances — many of them from Meteghan. “The money is coming in daily,” he said, referring to donations to his crowdfund.ca site.

Meanwhile, Brukovskiy’s daily plans are fluid, as he adjusts to opportunities to help that suddenly arise.

On Tuesday, he contacted The Canadian Press to report that he had encountered a convoy bringing refugees back to Lviv from eastern war zones, and within hours he’d been recruited to participate in one of the cross-country drives to rescue civilians.

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“They asked if I had a driver’s licence and I said, ‘For sure,’ and now I have a mini bus,” he said. “We’re going to bring supplies to the front lines and try and pick up as many refugees as we can fit on the bus.”

He said he was shocked at how easily a volunteer network provided him with a vehicle. “A driver brought me to a building and said, ‘This guy wants to help, gear him up with a vehicle.’ I had to suggest to him, ‘At least take a picture of my passport so you know who I am!'”

Brukovskiy said the humanitarian aid centre in Lviv has also created a list of medications that are more difficult to obtain, and he’s arranging to send the list to suppliers in Montreal in order to have them shipped to Ukraine.

Within an hour of Monday’s interview, the fisherman was back in an air raid shelter, sending images of the concrete bunker as his humanitarian work was briefly interrupted. However, Brukovskiy said he is neither discouraged nor fearful.

“I felt a lot more scared two weeks ago, when I was in Nova Scotia, than I do now,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2022.

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