By: Julia Peterson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix

Through a series of art classes, raffles, fundraisers and donations, residents of Flin Flon and neighbouring communities have raised nearly $20,000 to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine this month.

Flin Flon, a city of just over 5,000 located on the border between Saskatchewan and Manitoba, is home to many Ukrainian immigrants and refugees and their descendents.

Crystal Kolt is one of them.

Her grandfather was Ukrainian and, as she watched the news about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she felt she wanted to help.

“So I reached out to some people in town, and they told people, and within a day or two we had a committee,” she said. “From there, it just expanded to be this extraordinary event.”

The group held a fundraiser on April 10, where they sold Ukrainian food and raffle tickets. The money they raised will be donated to the Red Cross.

Kolt said news of the fundraiser spread mostly by word of mouth, but it spread fast.

“It was just this storm,” she said. “The food was gone in 25 minutes. We had 100 litres of borscht, around 100 loaves of paska that were donated by our local co-op, and people made all sorts of ethnic food and meals — it all sold.”

Many artists from the Northern Visual Arts Centre (NorVA) and the local arts community supported the fundraiser by donating paintings and other pieces to raffle off.

“We had these amazing raffles of artwork and caribou hair tufting and quilts,” said Kolt. “The penny parade was just laden with amazing things. We actually had to have an extra draw because … things kept showing up.”

Kolt’s husband is a musician so, a couple days before the fundraiser, she had asked if he would be willing to play piano.

“Well, he told a few friends, and the next thing we knew we had two hours of musicians of all ages performing in support of Ukraine,” she said.  “It was unbelievable, actually. It was really moving and emotional; people were in tears.

“You could really see that the community needed to do something. Individuals wanted to contribute the best they could.”

And the Flin Flon arts community is working hard to keep the fundraising momentum going.

Later this month, NorVA will be hosting two workshops in support of Ukraine — a traditional Ukrainian Easter egg decorating session on Friday, and a sunflower pot painting workshop on April 30.

All of the supplies and instructor time for both workshops have been donated.Creighton, Sask. resident

Phyllis Kozak and her daughter Katie Kozak will be leading the egg painting workshop.

Ukrainian decorated eggs, or pysanka, are known for their bright colours and detailed line art.

Both Phyllis and Katie Kozak learned to paint pysanka from Phyllis’s mother, who was born in Ukraine. In fact, Katie was supposed to travel to Ukraine this year to see the village where the family had lived before immigrating to Canada.

“In my family, we’re all very proud of our heritage,” said Phyllis Kozak.

And she says she has been “amazed” by how the community in and around Flin Flon has stepped up to support Ukraine in recent weeks.

“It is a really good feeling to be able to send this much money over,” she said.

And Kolt said she has been delighted — but not surprised — by how her community has taken up the cause.

“People are showing their support all across the country,” she said. “But I think people forget that the little communities sometimes can move very quickly to get things done.”