Faces of Little Ukraine

The neighbourhood fixtures who feed, teach and lead their community

▲ Volodymyr Yanishevsky, church rector

Since the war began, parishioners have been filling St. Josaphat’s Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral with clothes, furniture, food and other essentials. With the help of his clergy and a team of volunteers, Reverend Volodymyr Yanishevsky has donated some of the supplies to families who have fled the war and sent the rest to Ukraine. His parents and brothers remain in western Ukraine, safe for the time being; he left them behind when he came to Canada as a young priest in 1996. “I think about them and pray for them constantly,” he says.

▲ Olya Grod, community activist

Olya Grod’s parents arrived in Canada in 1949, just before she was born. “My parents were lucky to have the government and other Ukrainian-Canadians, who gave them safe haven when they needed it,” she says. Now, Grod is extending the same welcome to Ukrainians fleeing the war. “Some of the refugees knew nobody in Toronto. They don’t even have someone to pick them up from the airport.” As a member of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Grod has organized relief fundraisers and helped newcomers settle. More than 70 years after her parents arrived, she says, “When I’m doing this work, it feels like things have come full circle.”

▲ Maria Janchenko, bakery owner

“I’m not a soldier,” says Maria Janchenko, the owner of a cozy Eastern European eatery a few blocks west of High Park. “I can’t go over there and fight.” Instead, she cooks and bakes and donates 80 per cent of the revenue from her bestsellers—homestyle doughnuts, hearty red borscht—to organizations such as 4th Wave, which sends much-needed ambulances to Ukraine. In March, Justin Trudeau dropped into Janchenko’s Bakery to say thanks.

▲ Lily Hordienko, school principal

Lily Hordienko holds the top job at St. Demetrius, a Ukrainian-language elementary school that has welcomed more than 40 students who fled the war. She spends her days in Zoom meetings overseeing the school’s operations and coordinating events for the kids through her volunteer position with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. Hordienko sees her work as an extension of her father’s legacy—he was a high school teacher who took his students on trips from Toronto to the Soviet Union to teach them about Ukraine’s history and advocate for its sovereignty. “I feel like I’m continuing his tradition,” she says. “I just feel like I must.”

▲ Larysa Czoli, catering and events manager

Czoli works at Baby Point Lounge, a banquet hall and caterer known for authentic Ukrainian cooking. The business has helped raise $27,000 through a raffle, concert and donation-matching program, and it recently hired two Ukrainians who fled the war. Czoli’s grandparents left the country during wartime, and her parents sponsored several families who moved to Canada. “All of this is a little surreal for me,” says Czoli. “This vicious cycle of Ukraine being in war or under attack—it feels like history just keeps repeating itself.”

▲ Olena Lezhanska, social services manager

Lezhanska trained as a mathematician in Ukraine. But after moving to Toronto in the early 2000s, she began working for Ukrainian Canadian Social Services, helping others acquire visas and get settled in the city. Since the war started, she has been busier than ever, working overtime to ensure new arrivals—including her own mother and niece—can find work, housing, clothing, health care and other supports. “I don’t want to call it fate that I ended up doing this work, but I just like helping people,” she says. “I feel like this is where I belong.”

Big Heart, Little Ukraine