As Russian forces move into Ukraine and as missiles hit airports and military facilities, the Canadian government is telling its citizens in the country to flee.
But Chad Martz and his family who live in an undisclosed community in the Carpathian Mountains in western Ukraine aren’t going anywhere.
“I feel like we are in pretty unique position here,” the recent Chilliwack resident said in a video chat Thursday (Feb. 24) afternoon with The Progress.
Chad lives in western Ukraine with his wife Mary, and 17-year-old daughter Tatyana. The couple both work for Hungry for Life International, a Christian charitable organization based in Chilliwack
“We’ve got the ability to help,” Chad said. “We are in a position to help those that are fleeing from the conflict areas. We are quite well networked in the country, my wife comes from a large family. So we are pretty well connected for me to get up and leave.
“I just can’t do that with the position that we are in.”
Essentially living on the front lines of history unfolding in Europe, the Martz family has called Ukraine home for less than a year. Mary is from Ukraine, but Chad grew up in Chilliwack, graduated from Chilliwack Secondary School. Mary has twice been written about in The Progress for her missions to help people in Ukraine, the first time when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014.
But now the Martz family aren’t just visiting the front lines, they are living there. Given the work they do, their relative geographic safety as of this week, means they feel they have to stay to try to help those in need.
Widows, orphans, disabled people, whole families are travelling west as Russian bombs explode and tanks roll into Kyiv. The Chernobyl nuclear plant has been seized, and missiles are raining down on military targets.
Meanwhile, Chad and Mary are working with other charitable groups connected to Hungry For Life International, to get food and bedding and sanitary supplies ready for any Ukrainians fleeing in their direction.
Mid-day Thursday, after 11 p.m. time in Ukraine, Chad said they were expecting 130 people to come to their community on Friday, 52 of them orphans.
“We’ve secured a place for 50 and we will house personally, I don’t know, as many as 20 or 30,” he said. “We will just house as many as we can.”
He said they are networking with local churches, and they are doing what they can to purchase as many supplies as possible to prepare for refugees.
Asked what the mood is like, he said there is certainly underlying anxiety but people are amazingly calm. Unlike in Canada when people started hoarding at stages of the pandemic, or on a Black Friday when people stampede into stores, none of that is even possible in Ukraine because they don’t have the means. Most don’t have credit cards, they live day to day.
But some of the relative calm Chad attributes to lived history.
“You gotta think how much people have lived through here,” he said, from The Iron Curtain to living under corrupt regimes for decades, then Russia invades in 2014, and now this.
“The amount that they have gone through, I don’t know if they are necessarily immune to it but they have an internal resilience that I don’t have coming from Canada.”
The Canadian government has been in touch via email, and has told Canadians to flee to nearby European Union countries. For those like the Martzes who will not, the suggestion is to stay put, don’t travel around.
Asked what it would take to get him to leave, Chad said there is no one thing he could pinpoint, but he needs to protect his own family including his daughter.
“We would have to be in immediate danger.”
He said the people of Chilliwack have been incredible in their generosity to the people of Ukraine, even long before the current invasion. Local people have been involved with shipping clothing and other humanitarian aid for years.
If anyone wants to help out, he said their office at Hungry for Life International is a great place to start. They are located at 45950 Alexander Ave. and the website is www.hungryforlife.org. And 100 per cent of donations go to the front lines, they don’t take a cut for office expenses.
Chad was also asked what people in Canada should know, from the perspective of someone in Ukraine today.
“It just feels like history is writing itself right in front of our eyes,” he said.
“It’s a very crucial stage in how the West and other nations are going to respond to what is currently going on here. It doesn’t just have implications for Ukraine, it’s got implications for the whole world.”
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