At Christmas, Ukrainian newcomer Mariia Zelemko normally celebrates with her extended family in western Ukraine, helping her grandmother in the kitchen.
After nearly 11 months of war in her home country, the 18-year-old refugee, who arrived with her parents and siblings in October, is marking the holiday with new faces in Manitoba — many of whom are still living in hotels.
For Orthodox Christmas Eve on Friday, Winnipeg’s Sts. Vladimir and Olga Cathedral hosted a dinner, complete with carols and prayer, for about 200 Ukrainian newcomers, an evening they usually would have enjoyed at home with family before the war.
For many Ukrainians, the festive season signals an important time of year, but their first one in Canada brings both joy and sadness as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nears its one-year anniversary.
“It feels different,” Zelemko said solemnly. “But Canadians are helping us, and I feel like we can become one big family.”
Churchgoers and guests prepared 12 different kinds of Christmas dishes, including fish and kutia — a pudding made of boiled wheat, sometimes topped with honey and walnuts.
Volunteers handed out steaming cups of borscht, while children eyed a table filled with pampushky (donuts).
“This is important for them to have a sense of stability and tradition and something that they can recognize as their own,” Lawrence Huculak, the metropolitan archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Manitoba, told Global News on Friday.
Huculak said he hopes the dinner and services would get refugees through this emotional and sombre time.
Orthodox Christmas Eve dinner
“We knew that many of them would not be able to have this supper, put all together with its traditional food,” Huculak said.
Some Ukrainians marked Christmas on December 25 to participate in Canadian traditions. Others didn’t take part in festivities on Saturday altogether because of its associations with Russia.
But for Zelemko, the occasion still felt special. She’s finding comfort in her newfound community while keeping Ukraine close to her heart.
Orthodox Christmas, and ongoing supports for Ukrainian refugees in Westman
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