Since Russia first invaded Ukraine in February 2022, millions of Ukrainians have had to flee their home country. Canada has welcomed thousands and it’s estimated that more than 2,000 Ukrainians have settled in Nova Scotia.
Veteran Rick Langille experienced the effects of war first-hand while serving for the Canadian Army in Bosnia in 1995 and 1996, and that experience led him to found the Ukrainian Store in Halifax.
“Because of that history I felt compelled that I needed to do something to help people that are escaping the war and coming to Nova Scotia,” he said.
The Ukrainian Store opened its doors in April and runs entirely off donations. New Ukrainians can come to the store and shop for what they need — all for free.
But now there’s a risk they’ll have to close.
“The owners of this space have advised us that they have a tenant — a paying tenant — that will be coming effective the first of April so we’ve been asked to vacate by the end of March,” said Langille.
Since opening, the space has been donated to the cause, allowing them to operate rent-free, something Langille says they’re very grateful for. They’re now hoping to find a new location to keep things going.
“I know there’s many (Ukrainians) that are slated to arrive in March and April and so that need is going to not only continue but it’s going to increase,” said Langille.
Their current space is 4,000 square feet and they’re hoping to find something similar that’s on a bus route so it’s easily accessible, and has a storefront that can be driven up to to allow for large items to be easily loaded and unloaded.
“If someone can help us with a new location of space, please help us,” pleaded Alla Subbotina, one of hundreds of Ukrainians who have benefited from the store.
She arrived in Canada in September 2022 with her husband and two sons. They were able to find an apartment but had nothing to put in it.
“I took mattresses, sofa, table, kitchen stuff,” she said.
“It’s very good because I have nothing, I was very surprised.”
Subbotina now volunteers at the store and says she had never expected anything like it when she first arrived and she’s so grateful for the generosity of Canadians.
Gala Chorna, who arrived in Canada alone in November, began volunteering around the same time as Subbotina and says while she didn’t need any furniture as she was lucky enough to find a furnished apartment, the store gave her something else: a community.
“Us volunteers, it’s my family because I’m alone in Canada.”
“Alla, many people say your sisters? Yes, it’s my new sister in my new country. It’s my family, it’s my new friends, I’m not feeling alone in Canada with these people.”
Chorna said she is hoping they won’t have to close because it would be a real loss for the many Ukrainians who will be arriving in Nova Scotia in the coming months.
“In the future, these people will need help, our store,” she said.