Some members of the Sunflower Network with the Ukrainian refugee children who have settled in Estevan.

A lot can happen in one year. Call it twelve months, or, if you prefer, three hundred and sixty four days. And man, it’s been a hell of a year. For us in the energy industry it’s been somewhat busier due to stable commodity prices, increased demand post-COVID and of course energy security uncertainty due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. It’s nice to be able to keep our people employed, but not at the cost the Ukrainian people are currently paying.

And it is one huge price they are paying. Now, before I go any farther I know many of you will start to criticize governments around the world for using this invasion as an opportunity to “launder” money through arms sales and aid packages. I am not about to debate that today, as it is way above my pay grade and I can only tell you about what I have seen and the stories I have been told. And for today, this is the focus of my article.

Just about a year ago, a very good friend of mine, Steve Halabura, reached out to many of his industry friends asking for help and suggestions on how people from Saskatchewan could help Ukrainian people fleeing the war to protect their families, find work, and raise their children. For those of you who don’t know Steve, he is a geologist of Ukrainian descent, has been involved with oil, gas, potash, helium and God knows what else. He is an industry legend and writes pieces relating to geology, focusing on potash. He has also taught at the University of Saskatchewan, and for context, gave me some very helpful advice when I started writing a few years back. So if you enjoy my articles, you can thank Steve. If you think my writing sucks, it’s all on me. (Hearty laughter here)

Long story even longer, we had a group of like-minded people who were willing to help in whatever small way we could. (This includes the owner/editor of this online magazine, Brian Zinchuk) We soon named it the “Sunflower Network” and a website was developed to invite Ukrainian people who needed help coming to Saskatchewan. It didn’t take long before people were reaching out asking for some assistance in the way of plane tickets, a place to stay, furniture, and of course, employment. There were people from all over the province offering to help in whatever way they could. Saskatoon, Warman, Abernethy, Carnduff, Estevan, Weyburn, Regina and more that I am sure I am forgetting. Steve quickly organized weekly zoom meetings and we all came together to offer suggestions, plan fundraising and any other ideas that would help, even in a small way. This group of people took the mission very seriously.

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And help they have. Plane tickets have been bought, travel plans put in place, accommodations organized and employment has been found. One of the first questions these displaced people ask is, “When can I go to work?” This shows how important supporting themselves and contributing to Canada is to them. The Sunflower Network, as well as many other people in Saskatchewan, has been instrumental in finding work for the men and women. It is not always easy, as many of them are well-educated and have specialized training that does not always apply to the region they have settled in. But happily, this has not stopped them from taking the work that is available until they are able to move closer to their specialty. To witness these stories first hand is truly something special.

But it’s the individual stories that are heart-wrenching. We have sat down, and had coffee, tea and wonderful Ukrainian food with these families and they have told us wonderful stories of their home before the war. The architecture, the art, music, food and the way of life that is so precious to them. This is then followed by the stories of death, destruction and the theft of their homeland. The atrocities committed, the families ripped apart, and friends killed in the fighting directly or indirectly are very difficult to listen to. When you listen to these experiences, it is a powerful reminder of how blessed we are to live in Canada. (I will take a break from criticizing our politicians today.)

On the other side of the coin, we have also seen amazing stories of families getting out of the war to safety. We have been to the airport in the dead of night, and having total strangers trusting you to take them, and their most precious of cargo, their children, on a two hour ride to Estevan. That alone is a leap of faith. But they are not strangers for long. We have witnessed big smiles, lots of tears, and the incredible resilience of adults and children as they settle in to their new surroundings to not only survive, but thrive. Moms and Dads making meals, kids laughing as they run through a sprinkler or attend the “Festival of Lights” at Christmas prove to you just how strong the human spirit is. You cannot help but be changed for the better by witnessing this.

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I must note that every time we have asked for help from our new Ukrainian friends, they jump right in and get involved. Whether it’s moving furniture, fundraising with a bake sale or cleaning an apartment before the next family arrives, they are more than happy to assist. They are one group that wants to pay it forward in any way they can. No complaints, only smiles and helping hands.

On a personal note, my wife and I have made friends, probably for life, just by being involved in the process of assisting them in a small way. We’ve celebrated Christmas with them and learned when you put a group of Ukrainian kids together in a room; they are the same as kids everywhere. (They run, laugh, play and make a LOT of noise.) In our small circle we have had one wedding and two babies born (Solomia and David). This sprouted a small group of local moms which started “Mothers helping Mothers” who helped the new Ukrainian moms prepare for baby and gathered the supplies necessary to get started. Saskatchewan people are a very generous bunch.

If you read my column on a regular basis, you are probably wondering what the heck this has to do with the energy industry. This is a fair question. Apart from volunteers that are employed by the industry, and a few Ukrainians that have begun to work in in it, it doesn’t seem like much. But as always, the generosity of the people and the companies that make up the oil and gas industry as always has been astounding. Businesses write cheques, people offer help in the way of donations, time and labour to move furniture, offers to drive people to appointments and much more. We even have a good friend who has donated space to store the donated furniture and other items. I would be remiss if I did not mention all the volunteers, business owners and people who do not work in the oil patch that have given so much in in the way of household items, time and money as well. We couldn’t do it without them. I would love to name them all here today, and one day I will.

 

Brian Crossman is a partner at Independent Well Servicing based in Estevan. He would like to acknowledge the members of “Sunflower” who all work much harder than he does (this includes his wife Valerie) and deserve most of the credit.

If you would like to help, please go to www.sunflowernetwork.ca to learn more. Donations are tax-deductible, but the real reward is helping these families get out of harm’s way and seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces. Trust me on this. And a big hug from a Ukrainian will nearly crack some ribs.

 

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    0066 WBPC Promo video 30 seconds
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  • 0064 Estevan OTS
    0064 Estevan OTS
  • 0063 Turnbull Excavating hiring crusher
    0063 Turnbull Excavating hiring crusher
  • 0062 TED_EPAC_Technology_30
    0062 TED_EPAC_Technology_30
  • 0061 SIMSA 2024 For Sask Buy Sask
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    0059 Southeast College Heavy Equipment Operator
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    0058 Royal Helium Steveville opens anonymous rocket
  • 0055 Smart Power Be Smart with your Power office
    0055 Smart Power Be Smart with your Power office
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    0053 Kingston Midstream Westspur Alameda Click Before You Dig large text
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    0052 Predator Inspections
  • 0051 JML Hiring Pumpjack assembly
    0051 JML Hiring Pumpjack assembly
  • 0049 Scotsburn Dental soft guitar
    0049 Scotsburn Dental soft guitar
  • 0046 City of Estevan This is Estevan
    0046 City of Estevan This is Estevan
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    0041 DEEP Since 2018 now we are going to build
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  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
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Brian Zinchuk: How many nuclear reactors, wind turbines, or solar panels would Saskatchewan have needed last week? How about on Feb. 23?