Ukrainian scouting group provides a sense of community for children displaced by Russian invasion

The Ukrainian Plast, which is the biggest scouting group in the country, is now emerging as a hub for Ukrainian families who have escaped the Russian conflict in their homeland.

After the invasion of Ukraine by Russian armed forces in 2022, Maria and her family, including the 9-year old girl herself, had no choice but to move to Canada to escape the conflict.

Even though they resided in Lviv, a western city that was quite distant from the Russian border, her parents deemed the circumstances to be precarious enough to put their children’s safety at risk. Therefore, they relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Maria’s mother wasted no time in finding and joining the local Plast branch.

According to Maria, this year’s Spring Festival revolved around the theme of power. For her, power encompasses both physical and mental strength, including the capacity to stand firmly and persevere.

Maria is already the proud owner of four camps in her collection and has earned some new badges since her arrival.

She proudly stated, “I currently possess over ten skills, which is a significant increase from the number of skills I had back in Ukraine.”

Plast’s significance extends beyond the acquisition of badges. It centers on fostering communication, education, and unity among young individuals before they face the complexities of the real world.

Dozens of participants from both British Columbia and the United States gathered in Squamish, a town north of Vancouver, to celebrate this year’s Spring Festival.

Kalyna Durbak, who is currently the leader of Seattle Plast branch, revealed that she became a member of the organization as a child because her father was also a Plast member. Recalling her earliest memories, she mentioned attending her first camp at the age of four, and has been actively participating in camps ever since.

Although her grandparents hailed from Ukraine, her father was born in Argentina while her mother was born in the United States. The couple later met in Chicago.

Despite not being born in Ukraine, Kalyna is well-versed in the language thanks to her attendance at a Ukrainian school in Chicago. She dedicated every Saturday for a decade, until she was 15 years old, to learning the language.

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She expressed, “I felt like I was living two distinct lives simultaneously. From Monday to Friday, I identified as American, but during the weekends and at home, I identified as Ukrainian.”

As she works with young Plast members, her school experience has proven to be helpful, especially in terms of her knowledge of Ukrainian language, geography, and history.

According to Kalyna, there has been a significant increase in new members joining Plast in the U.S. and Canada over the past two years.

Kalyna expressed mixed emotions regarding the growth of the organization. While she is glad about its expansion, she also feels sad that it is due to the ongoing war. She described her emotions as bitter-sweet, grateful for the opportunity to provide help and support to their fellow citizens in Ukraine.

As the number of Plast members in Canada continues to increase, the Seattle branch has decided to forego organizing the Spring Festivals alone. Instead, they have opted to join their neighbors in celebrating the start of the camping year together.

Kalyna expressed her preference for meeting Plast members from Vancouver, stating that doing so in Seattle would be devoid of joy. She emphasized the mutual enjoyment of seeing each other and the importance of maintaining the connection between the two groups.

She views Plast as a brotherhood, a great family that transcends borders. According to her, Plast knows no bounds, which is why she cherishes it. She has made friends across the globe through Plast, including scouts from Austria, Australia, Ukraine, Poland, Argentina, and Canada.

Anastasia, a 39-year-old mother, and her children had no prior experience with scouting while living in their hometown of Odesa in southern Ukraine. Seeking a peaceful life, the family moved to Canada five months ago. Upon arriving in British Columbia, 9-year-old Sofia and her 5-year-old brother Lev joined Plast to explore the world of scouting.

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Anastasia expressed her desire for the children to stay within the Ukrainian community, learn about the Ukrainian culture, and show their support towards it at an appropriate level. Additionally, she emphasized the importance of communication between Ukrainian children.

She explains that for children, adapting to life in Canada can be a daunting task. As newcomers to the country, they are faced with an entirely new world, language, and culture. Previously, they were comfortable in their own surroundings, with familiar friends and activities. However, moving to a new country requires starting from scratch and building a new life.

Anastasia and her husband’s parents are currently residing in Odesa, a city that is constantly under the threat of Russian missiles and drones. They express deep regret for not being able to visit and spend time with their beloved grandchildren.

Anastasia emphasized that the safety of their children is of utmost importance to them, and Plast plays a significant role in connecting them with their Motherland. “Above all, security is paramount, and Plast helps us achieve that,” she added.

Lida Slobodian, the current camp commandant, recalls her youth as a member of Plast when she and her family moved to Canada from Ukraine many years ago. She emphasizes that continuing the scouting traditions on new ground was a no-brainer for their group. “There was no hesitation,” she said.

For more than 30 years now, she has been a member of Plast, and even her older children used to attend Plast meetings when they were still in Ukraine.

She stated her desire for her youngest child, who was born in Vancouver, to be a part of the organization. As a result, they established a branch in Vancouver to make this possible.

Lida’s analysis reveals that around fifty percent of the branch’s present members were involved in scouting back in Ukraine or are local Plast members in Canada. On the other hand, the remaining fifty percent are unaware of the organization’s existence in Ukraine and joined Plast after migrating to Canada to maintain and enhance their connection with Ukraine and the local Ukrainian community.

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Lida believes that Plast is not just a way to preserve Ukrainian identity, culture, and spirit, but it is also a valuable platform for personal growth. She considers it a great school of life, where one can develop leadership skills and other important soft skills that come in handy in various areas of life.

According to her, Plast offers children a chance to join a Ukrainian community, make new friends, and build new relationships. She believes that the opportunities provided by Plast are crucial in Canada’s multicultural society where Ukrainian children may not have the chance to meet other Ukrainian kids in their classes and may struggle to maintain their Ukrainian language and culture in new environments.

This Spring Festival camp provides an excellent opportunity for children to engage in various activities, including playing games, singing songs, presenting skit performances, and learning new things, all while communicating in Ukrainian language.

Lida emphasized that children gain valuable knowledge about nature and wildlife through their experiences. For instance, they learn how to behave when encountering a bear and how to survive in the forest and mountains.

According to her, the primary focus of this camp was to impart essential life skills such as time management and leadership to children. The tasks assigned to the children were designed to help them learn how to assess problems effectively and take responsibility for their decisions. The camp also included various games that were aimed at developing strategic thinking and promoting teamwork among the participants.

According to Kalyna, Plast provides a platform for young individuals to showcase their leadership skills and take on responsibilities. For many, it is their first experience in a leadership role, which can be a defining moment in their personal growth.

According to her, participating in such activities provides individuals with valuable leadership skills and self-discipline. They learn to present themselves confidently to the world and become better teachers and individuals overall.

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MBS Staff
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