Ottawa Ukrainians seek to repair summer camp and house children fleeing war

It is now up to Ukrainian Canadian Social Services to repair the camp in the Ottawa hills before the children start arriving in mid-July.

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Michael Ryndzak smiles as he describes the camp that has comforted members of Ottawa’s Ukrainian community for more than five decades.

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It’s nestled in the verdant hills of the Outaouais, a short drive north of the nation’s capital, and while it’s not luxurious – it has dorms and a few cabins near the shores of a lake – it is a source of fond memories for him and others in his community.

In the summer, he says, children play in the water, sing songs by a campfire on the shore, and watch performances in an outdoor amphitheater.

But the camp is also aging. It’s worse for wear in certain areas and requires repairs and general maintenance.

This year, those repairs are particularly important, Ryndzak said, because he and his colleagues at Ukrainian Canadian Social Services, a charity set up to help people and families of Ukrainian descent, plan to receive at least 35 young children. and mothers who recently fled the war in Ukraine.

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The children, aged 8 to 13, have been affected by the trauma of war and the turmoil of displacement. “It’s unimaginable what they went through,” Ryndzak said. “We decided to mobilize the whole community for these children to give them a moment of relaxation at the (camp).”

It was an idea born in part out of necessity, says Ryndzak. Since Russia launched its assault on Ukraine on February 24, more than five million people have fled the country. Most are refugees in neighboring countries, such as Poland, but thousands have come to Canada.

Michael Ryndzak is also looking for therapists who could lend a hand to help the children cope with all that they have been through fleeing Ukraine.
Michael Ryndzak is also looking for therapists who could lend a hand to help the children cope with all that they have been through fleeing Ukraine. Photo by Julie Olivier /Postmedia

Ryndzak says Ottawa’s Ukrainian community is working hard to welcome new refugees and make them feel at home. For children who have fled conflict, this means going the extra mile to make them feel like children again by giving them opportunities to make friends, play and participate in camp activities – normal stuff for kids.

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However, to help give the kids that environment, Ryndzak says he needs supplies. The camp was founded shortly after World War II by Ukrainians who came to Canada after fleeing Nazi concentration camps. Many of its original keepers are old and unable to perform necessary maintenance. Now the onus is on UCSS to make repairs before the kids start arriving in mid-July.

“We need a lot of supplies, anything we can get, especially for the kids coming to camp,” Ryndzak says. “They must have good conditions in the rooms to sleep.”

Among the materials he needs, Ryndzak mentions paint, pillows and tables. There are even a few windows that need to be replaced, and he pleads for community donations of any leftover building materials, like plywood and two-by-fours, which can be costly.

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There is also a need for personal items like towels and soap. “These Ukrainian children will have nothing, so we have to provide everything for them,” Ryndzak says, adding that the UCSS has already gathered hygiene supplies and other items for the children.

Ryndzak is also looking for therapists who could lend a hand to help the children cope with all that they have been through fleeing Ukraine. He is on the lookout and in contact with qualified doctors who have offered their services.

But the camp activities themselves are also meant to be a sort of therapy session for the kids.

Dr. Arthur Blouin, an Ottawa psychologist with decades of experience and one of the co-founders of the Center for Cognitive Therapy, says children fleeing conflict zones can be quite resilient, but they can also suffer severe psychological consequences, in part because of the rapid uncertainty that accompanies displacement: the departure of family members, friends and even familiar things like toys.

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A summer camp environment aims to provide children with the opportunity to meet new friends and act like children even though they have experienced events that few children experience.

“Fun play is really important in a child’s development in general,” says Blouin, “and obviously in a situation like this, when kids can come in and have fun and play, that’s extremely valuable. to adapt to that long-term stress and that’s also important for adults as well. »

Ryndzak says some children of Ukrainian descent from Ottawa will also attend the camp to help newcomers integrate. As well as spending precious time by the lake, swimming and enjoying the outdoors, he says he has planned nature walks with the kids and there will be art sessions and lessons. of dance.

“(We will have) artists who will teach them to draw and paint murals on the walls of the camp because it’s so old that nobody cares if the children paint something and leave an imprint for the new generations to whoever comes later as a landmark of this whole event can be,” he says. “Imagine murals standing there. I think that’s a great idea.”

Ryndzak says anyone who can help with supply donations or wants to contact UCSS should email or call him directly at 613-724-8206.

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