War in Ukraine |  Camp of Hope

War in Ukraine | Camp of Hope

For six weeks, a day camp in the Mile End neighborhood welcomed Ukrainian children who had just arrived in Quebec. La Presse spent the last day of camp with them last Friday.

Posted at 6am yesterday


Catherine Handfeld

Catherine Handfield The Press

It’s 10:30 a.m. Around thirty children between the ages of 5 and 12 are doing handicrafts in the large hall. This Friday, on their very last day at day camp, they’re making pyramids with dry spaghetti and marshmallows.

Katherine Smolynec, President of the Ukraine National Association of Canada, watches them in action.

“I start and end my day reading the news from Ukraine, which worries me,” says Ms Smolynec. But seeing these kids play gives me a little hope for humanity. »

Polina, 5, leaves her creation to hug Katia Barbosa, 16, one of the five performers present that day. Polina is from Sumy, a city in Ukraine 50 km from the Russian border. She fell in love with Katia, a student at Jean-de-Brébeuf College whose mother is of Ukrainian descent.

War in Ukraine Camp of Hope


Interpreter Katia Barbosa has fun with a young camper.

“We must be happy to cheer them up,” said Katia. Many children miss their fathers who stayed in Ukraine. You are nostalgic. »

Children often express it during activities, Katia notes. She remembers the day campers decorated a bird house. A child told about the birds that came to his garden in Ukraine. “He hoped the birds still had food,” says Katia.

For the past six weeks, the Monarque Tutoring Camp has taken in between 30 and 40 Ukrainian children a day, most of them from war-affected regions such as Kharkiv, Odessa and Kyiv. They now live all over the greater Montreal area, sometimes in apartments, sometimes with families who will lend them a room or two.

The children are surrounded by supervisors, but also by interpreters who make them understandable.

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Meagan Johnson hugs little Alona, ​​​​5 years old.

It’s already a new country, a new place. Giving them that little connection with the home, allowing them to speak Ukrainian with other children and with the interpreters makes them more comfortable.

Meagan Johnson, co-founder of Monarque Tutoring

The language barrier remains a challenge for instructors, Meagan agrees, but they’ve found a way.

Fuel Transport came up with the idea of ​​offering such a day camp for the Ukrainian community. The Montreal company submitted the idea to Monarque Tutoring, who accepted the challenge. In July, the camp welcomed its first campers to Mile End premises on loan from the Ukrainian National Federation of Canada (UNF).

Thanks to Fuel Transport, FNU and the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress, everything is free for children.

The war in my head

“We’re going to eat Putin!” »

A boy of about ten makes this joke on his way to the park. His friends burst out laughing. This afternoon they eat Putin to discover Quebec specialties. Hence the pun.

The political context in Ukraine is never far from children’s minds.

“In the older group, they’re more expressive, sometimes more aggressive,” says Meagan Johnson. They express their feelings. Sometimes we see it in the drawings. Soldiers, flags…”

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Jora and Mark, two young campers

In the park, Katherine Smolynek from FNU asks 6-year-old Jora where her home is in Ukraine. “My house is at war,” he replies spontaneously. “I had a lot of friends at home,” he says.

Her friend Mark smiles. “I love that we come to the park every day and play Lego! ‘ says the 8-year-old boy.

Interpreter Sofia Safsaf watches them out of the corner of her eye. When children play, laugh and bond with each other, war is still part of their imagination.

One day, as they were returning from the park, two helicopters crossed the sky. children came to us. They were scared. They asked if it was the Russians.

Sofia Safsaf, actress

On the way to the picnic in the streets of Outremont, the elders spontaneously sing the Ukrainian national anthem. The interpreters join them. “Honour to Ukraine! “, sing.

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Yaremia Bratychak

An interpreter, Yaremiia Bratychak, will return to Ukraine in a few days to continue her law studies and to find her parents, whom she has not seen for almost five months. “I love my country so much,” says Yaremiia, convinced that Ukrainian soldiers are there to protect the people.

The children will soon start school in Quebec.

“See you next summer! says Nadia Marchuk, picking up her granddaughter Polina for the last time at the day camp. Polina hopes to return next summer. She even plans to become an instructor one day.

Will camp return in summer 2023?

“Will the war continue next year? I hope not, replies Katherine Smolynec. And if these children are still here, they will be integrated into Quebec society after one school year. »