Local helping in Ukraine any way he can

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A Canadian man who made great personal sacrifices to relocate to Ukraine says he is not about to leave now.

David Cleary says he would rather stay in Kyiv to support Ukrainian soldiers and his community in his adopted homeland in any way he can.

Cleary, who grew up in Creemore, moved to Ukraine three years ago to start a new life as an English-as-a- second-language (ESL) teacher at a private school, and make a home in the apartment he had purchased.

“Before the war everything was good, even right up to the 23rd of February. Nobody thought anything and then all of a sudden the bombs started,” said Cleary.

That night, the invasion began. It was 4 a.m. when the first bomb went off, and then the air raid sirens starting blaring.

“It was actually very close. Not close-close but it was close enough. We felt it,” said Cleary. “It was like the world came to an end. Everything just stopped.”

Many residents were fleeing. Cleary said he watched from his apartment window as people packed up and left, saying it was like a movie playing out before his eyes.

“It was freaky,” he said. “Right after that explosion people were in their cars heading to Lviv, heading to Poland, they were heading west.”

He said people were not expecting the scale and boldness of the attack, it was worse than what they thought was possible.

“I’m still very positive Ukraine will win this,” said Cleary, who has no intention to leave. “I could have left long ago, but why? I’ve even had the military ask me that question… I feel I can do more here, helping in whatever way I can.”

Since Feb. 25 he was spending long hours volunteering at a shelter set up to feed the military, feeding about 1,000 meals to soldiers on a typical day, and about 3,500 at Easter. The long hours combined with the curfew made it easier for Cleary to bunk at the shelter, retuning home every few days to shower and check in with neighbours.

“It was a safe building in case something happened,” he said.

Others are supporting the war effort in many ways. There are teachers making netting for camouflage and civilians making bullet proof vests.

“They need as much help as they can get,” said Cleary. “When they ask for these bullet proof vests and all the ammunition, believe me, people don’t understand, their stuff is old. They will win this war as long as the west will supply them. In terms of feet on the ground, there’s nobody here that I know who doesn’t have the courage or the motivation to win. They have been fighting for more than eight years to keep Russia away. People never heard about it or thought about, but Ukrainians did.”

The city is starting to get back to business as usual, despite the ongoing conflict. People are going back to work. Cleary said it’s important to keep in mind that on the front lines in the east part of the country, people have been living life as normally as possiblewhile fighting off the Russians these past eight years. He said some of his neighbours are very resilient and have been in their apartments throughout the latest invasion.

Cleary has been teaching online but the Ukrainian teachers are starting to return to the classroom. As far as he knows, Cleary is one of the only native English language speaking teachers on staff to have remained. Cleary first visited Ukraine seven years ago.

“It was an experiment,” he said. He lived there for nine months and fell in love with it. He said the landscape is just like home but the lifestyle is much more to his liking. In Canada, Cleary said he was working more than 70 hours per week and living pay check to pay check and was never able to get ahead. In Kyiv, he is working 20 hours per week and is living a much more comfortable lifestyle. He says ESL teachers are paid decently, but sadly there is a wage disparity with the Ukrainian teachers, who are paid less.

In order to realize his dream of moving to Ukraine permanently, Cleary said he had to clear $5,000 of debt, which doesn’t sound like a lot of money to most Canadians but he was struggling to save. In order to do it, he made the sacrifice of living in a shipping container in Brampton until he could save up the money.

That is part of the reason he was not quick to leave when the war started, even though it would have been quite easy to do so.

While life in Kyiv has all the amenities of a metropolitan urban city, Cleary said it is a whole other story in the rural areas.

“Here, if you go out of Kyiv into the village, it’s like a curtain and you are going back 30 years back in time. It’s very different,” he said.

He said there is a big wage gap between rural and urban centres.

The villages have been hit hard by the invasion as Russian troops try to advance westward toward Kyiv. In some rural areas homes have been burned and villagers tormented by Russian soldiers. Cleary urges Canadians to support the cause.

Ukrainian flags are flying throughout the community and signs of support can be seen in the windows of homes and businesses.

A local fundraising effort is also underway to support Ukrainians coming to Canada. Donate to the Clearview Ukrainian Relief and Refugee Support fund, via CanadaHelps.org, with funds going to the Canada-Ukraine Foundation.

Cleary said the article should end with ‘Slava Ukraini’, meaning Glory to Ukraine.

Slava Ukraini!

Photo: David Cleary (front, left) is presented a certificate from the Ukrainian military for volunteering at a shelter for soldiers. Originally from Creemore, Cleary has been living in Kyiv for three years.

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