A celebration of culture and solidarity with the besieged population of Ukraine drew more than 120 people to the High Beam Dreams event centre in Gibsons on March 12, a gathering that culminated in emotional performances by Ukrainian expatriates and eminent Sunshine Coast artists.
With less than two weeks of preparation, several Gibsons organizations collaborated to coordinate the Humanitarian Fundraiser for Ukraine: High Beam Dreams and The Ideas Space took the lead, with support from the Rotary Club of Gibsons and the Gibsons Public Market. Members of the Elphinstone Secondary Interact Club, a youth service corps, also volunteered as waiters and ushers.
The Ideas Space—a coffee shop and education centre—is owned by Daria Anico-Taveras, who emigrated from Ukraine with her husband Daniel in 2020. Anico-Taveras recruited friends and business associates to plan the fundraiser in response to the military invasion of Ukraine that began on Feb. 24, triggering a humanitarian crisis in Europe’s second-largest country.
“We know that our cause is not only our cause,” said Anico-Taveras. “Everyone feels involved, and to know that keeps our spirits up. The variety of ways that people were joining us were endless.”
The fundraiser, whose proceeds will benefit relief efforts being led by the Canada-Ukraine Foundation, included a traditional Ukrainian meal. The borscht, vareniki (pierogis) and crepes were cooked by volunteers at the commercial kitchen facilities of the Gibsons Public Market.
During a 24-hour work party fuelled by coffee from Crazy Red’s Bread, Valentina Shvartsman baked the crepes. Yuliia Rowe and her mother Nataliia Dovzhyk prepared the borscht. Tammy Hartman recruited six friends to kneed and boil vareniki: Tracy Dubnyk, Pat Watt, Charmaine Bayntun, Joy Hill, Lynne Giekie and Karen Moroz. Supplies were donated by local merchants IGA, Super Valu and The Butcher.
On Saturday night, a long queue stretched from the arched auditorium of High Beam Dreams to its outdoor servery. Volunteers Rashmi Singh, Virginia Perez, Irina Fox and Anico-Taveras herself plated meals for nearly two hours.
Gesturing to Fox and Anico-Taveras, Singh said, “Look—there is someone from Russia and someone from Ukraine working beside each other.”
Students from the Elphinstone Interact Club helped guests carry laden plates to the hall. “I think service like this helps round out our perspective,” said club secretary Alexa Ingram. “When we help out, we get to learn more about other people.”
“I think we have a really tight community here,” said Interact member Ruthie Stewart. “When I met the kind of people who volunteered at events I attended as a kid, I realized I wanted to be part of things that do good for the community.”
Gibsons entrepreneur and Chamber of Commerce secretary Taya Docksteader served as master of ceremonies for the concert, which began with a speech by Sunshine Coast resident Yuliia Rowe. “As a Ukrainian, I am very proud of the strength and resilience of the Ukrainian people,” Rowe said. “As a Canadian, I am moved by the unity and willingness to help by Canadians of all communities and walks of life. This [conflict] is not just a Ukrainian issue. This is a global issue.”
Rowe emigrated from Ukraine 10 years ago. She received her Canadian citizenship on March 8—the same day that her mother Nataliia Dovzhyk arrived from Lviv, a city near Ukraine’s Polish border. Dovzhyk joined her daughter onstage to perform traditional Ukrainian songs. The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
Elena Bondareva and Olga Goncharko, both wearing dresses embroidered with floral patterns, blended their voices in rich-timbred duets that concluded with a soaring Ukrainian hymn.
Local singer-songwriter Kevin Crofton premiered an original work he wrote after seeing reports of refugees fleeing the three week-old conflict: “What if you saw hundreds of thousands of mothers and babies, fathers and children, endlessly walking, trying to stay hidden?” Audience members sang the country’s name in its traditional pronunciation, a haunting one-word chorus: Ukrayina.
The Anagram quartet of Anna Lumiere (piano and accordion), Graham Ord (saxophone), James Meger (upright bass) and John Rule (drums) transitioned from tranquil jazz to riotous Ukrainian folk music. Spoken-word artist Barbara Adler, musing on her Czech ancestry, performed a poem about the cultural dysphoria of immigrant families.
Elena Nikitina, who wore a crimson dress and a headdress like a halo of blossoms, alternated solos with her student Denis Pac, originally from Kazakhstan. Vocalists Wanda Nowicki and Michael Friedman (also on guitar) performed songs about the universality of sorrow and struggle, concluding with a plaintive verse written by one of Nowicki’s former bandmates: “Love and pain, sun and rain, come in stages—not much changes.”
“There always seems to be another reason to sing it,” said Nowicki. “It’s unfortunate that there’s always something happening that this song is appropriate for.”
Adrian Glynn, whose group The Fugitives has been nominated for a 2022 Juno Award for its album “Trench Songs,” concluded the concert with tributes to his Ukrainian ancestry, including a folk song by poet Taras Shevchenko accompanied by a unique family heirloom: a 19th-century balalaika. “It’s odd to play a Ukrainian folk song on a Russian instrument,” he said. “But it’s also appropriate. There’s supposed to be a brotherhood between Russians and Ukrainians.”
Two days after the event, Anico-Taveras reflected on its impact. “I talked to every Ukrainian who participated [in Saturday’s fundraiser],” she said. “They all described the same feeling: of being taken away from the suffering of the last three weeks. We just felt happy again for that evening. Lots of hope comes from such events. Because you find other sources for belief in good things.”
An online art auction is being held in conjunction with the Humanitarian Fundraiser for Ukraine. More than a dozen artworks are available for bidding. Access to the auction can be requested by emailing High Beam Dreams proprietors Vineet Miglani and Nidhi Kamboj at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donations to the Canada-Ukraine Foundation’s humanitarian appeal may be made online at www.cufoundation.ca.