Much love for Ukraine: $28K raised in the South Okanagan

Artisitic director Shane Gibson goes through the workout routine with his dancers prior to showtime last Thursday in Oliver. Penticton Herald

A standing ovation was the culmination to a “life-changing” visit to the South Okanagan for a group of young Calgary dancers.

But the real beneficiaries of the shows at the Frank Venables Theatre in Oliver and the Cleland Theatre are some of the millions of Ukrainians now struggling for survival.

While the final figures are still being tabulated, more than $28,000 was raised through the 1,000 Flights Out performances organized by the Ukraine Nightingale Project (UNP).

That money will be used to help people escape the war zones and provide support for them once they arrive in the South Okanagan.

Someone who knows firsthand just how important that is, is Vitalina Varnytska, who arrived in Canada six months ago with her children, daughter Vlada, 17, and son Ustym, 15.

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Husband and father Oleg Varnystka remained behind and is now fighting on the front lines against the invading Russians.

The Ukrainian family attended both shows last week.

“It was wonderful, I’m crying, it was just so emotional to see the help from Canada and that Canada understands our situation,” Vitalina said after the final show. “I see many people there who I know and many people I don’t know.

“Everyone, they help and it’s a very big help for Ukraine/ It was also very close to our home. We have a lot of dancing.”

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Both shows were sellouts and featured the Tryzub Ukrainian Dance Society and Ukrainian contemporary singer Ihor Borden.

According to Tryzub touring director John Stadnyk, the time here for his dancers, all in their teens, was especially moving.

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“I think the four days for them was a lot emotionally; two sell-out shows — every seat gone — and being well received by the communities in general and the Nightingale people, they are going to talk about this trip forever,” said Stadnyk, a Ukrainian descendant and a dancer himself.

“When they weren’t dancing, they were shuttled around and doing photo shoots with sponsors who were shining praise on them all day long and the Penticton show to give them a standing ovation, I think it was emotionally overflowing.

“These kids are somewhat selfless; they train hard and there’s not a million-dollar job at the end of this. They do it for the love of dance and the love of culture. I remember because I was that kid.”

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Andy Frost, who, along with his sister, Jennifer Martison, UNP co-chair, helped organize the fundraiser, also had nothing but praise for the young performers, and the outpouring of support from the communities.

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“Of all of the things we put these kids through, they were up for whatever we wanted them to do; posing in shopping carts, the back of trucks, at wineries and delicatessens, they never complained once,” said Frost.

“We had five photo shoots the morning after the Oliver performance on the way to the hotel in Penticton. These kids were troopers, they were as good as it gets.”

The dancers visited each of the sponsors in costume having to take their special boots off each time they went outside and change clothes to eat.

He added seeing kids, new Ukrainians and Canadian children, together at the shows was an extra special benefit.

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“Young people reaching out and sharing and interacting with each other, they’re the ones who have been damaged the most … most potentially by this conflict,” he said.

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“They are the ones who need all the support and care we can give them.”

Frost added the four days brought a very important awareness to people of the South Okanagan of the challenges facing people in Ukraine and those who are now here.

As an example, he pointed to the immediate actions organizers saw coming from the community.

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“Within 20 minutes of the first article (Penticton Herald Ukraine series) being visible, the phone rang and it was a lady who read the story and wanted to buy a BCAA membership for Vita (Vitalina Varnytska) that was a direct hit and we expect there will be more,” said Frost.

There were also people who signed up to volunteer with the UNP and made donations and he is hoping there will be more in the future.

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“This need is not going to go away.”

For more information, visit the UNP website:

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