Timur and Liana hold a patterned pillow with the Ukrainian colours, blue and yellow
A local quilt shop donated a pillow with the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag to the Kachmar family. (Photo: Maryna Kachmar)

Topics: UCC in Focus | Society

These two Ontario churches went all out to support a Ukrainian family

Johnstown and St. Paul's United churches came together with Prescott residents to shower the new arrivals with care


As Maryna Kachmar stepped into her family’s new house, she was moved by the sight of the gifts that filled the space.

A once-empty kitchen had been stocked with enough food for a month. The children’s bedrooms had been filled with games and welcome cards. Bags of toys had been prepared for the kids, to be opened each day of their first week. Local businesses had donated gift baskets and certificates worth hundreds of dollars. One store had gifted a quilt and a pillow in bright blue and yellow — the colours of the Ukrainian flag.

Kachmar, her husband Alex and her two young children had fled their home in Odesa, Ukraine when the Russian invasion began. The family of four had just moved into their new place in Prescott, Ont., an hour’s drive from Ottawa. Alex, an electronic engineer, and Kachmar, a psychologist, used to make enough that they could donate and help others, said Kachmar.

“It’s very heartwarming,” she said. “It’s a new experience for us. We had a good life before. We had everything, and we never needed any help.”

Maryna's children Timur and Liana by Prescott's waterfront, looking at a kite in the sky
Maryna Kachmar’s daughter Liana and her son Timur love the water because their hometown of Odesa, Ukraine borders the Black Sea, said Margaret McCuaig-Johnston. (Photo: Maryna Kachmar)

The housewarming gifts were part of a welcome initiative organized by two local churches, St. Paul’s United and Johnstown United. Rev. Brenda Bailey, the minister at both churches, said the congregations sprang to action when they heard about the Kachmar family’s arrival just a week before they were due to land.

“It’s the heart of both of my churches — community, outreach and mission,” she said. “If you see how these two churches reach out to their community, they wouldn’t have thought a second time. It’s just who they are.”

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Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, who helped coordinate the host application and prepare her mother’s house for the Kachmar family, had originally reached out to Bailey in hopes of finding someone to drive the family to appointments for the first few weeks. She didn’t expect her request to evolve into a full-scale community project.

“I was just blown away by what happened next,” said McCuaig-Johnston. “The community has really come together.”

Teams from the congregations prepared a week’s worth of meals for the family, baking dozens of cookies and filling their cupboards. They also reached out to local stores who offered vouchers and gifts. Community members donated over $1,000 in cash so the family would have Canadian currency.

Timur and Liana stand in a bed of pink tulips
Some members of Johnstown United recently brought the Kachmar family to the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa. (Photo: Maryna Kachmar)

Bailey, who led the project at the two churches, said the initiative was a breath of fresh air for the congregations.

“I had people who weren’t in church for two years come through the doors, who were very emotional or asking, ‘What can we do with them?’” she said. “It was that type of engagement where I saw life coming back into the people.”

The initiative extended beyond the churches’ initial efforts, with the town council preparing “welcome to Prescott” bins. Organizations offered free soccer and sailing lessons for the kids, and people extended resume and settlement help to Maryna and Alex. Students prepared welcome posters for Maryna’s two children, and a member of Maryna’s daughter’s class even learned a bit of Ukrainian to write a card for her new peer.

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For Bailey, the project has been part of St. Paul’s United and Johnstown United’s prayer. The pandemic raised questions about the churches’ future, and the initiative felt like a reminder to the congregants to move with their faith.

“This just came out of the cry or the lament of what we were to do,” Bailey said. “It just confirmed that the community still needs us.”

The initiative was also a project of love for Elizabeth Bonnell McCuaig Newton, McCuaig-Johnston’s mother and a dedicated member of St. Paul’s United.

Bonnell McCuaig Newton — who has been in the hospital for a few months — had decided to offer her five-bedroom home to a Ukrainian family after McCuaig-Johnston made the suggestion.

“She’s in a hospital room, so it’s hard for her to connect,” said McCuaig-Johnston. “But she hears about it through the stories of what the congregation is doing. And she knows all the people who are doing this, so it’s really heartwarming for her to hear these stories.”

Elizabeth Bonnell McCuaig Newton sits in a yellow suit.
Elizabeth Bonnell McCuaig Newton will be moving into a long-term care home soon, said her daughter McCuaig-Johnston, and agreed to offer her five-bedroom home to the family as accommodation. (Photo: Margaret McCuaig-Johnston)

Kachmar said that the help from the community has been ongoing.

“We don’t ask, but they offer,” she said. “Someone can just come, knock on the door and give some soup or some biscuits or their phone number, and they say to just call if you need something.”

The support has been overwhelming, she added.

“Words cannot express what we feel towards these people,” said Kachmar. “I will be grateful to them all my life. Even if we move from here someday, I will never forget this help and support.”


Tobin Ng is an intern at Broadview.

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