TORONTO — Julia Zaritsky has spent most of her days over the last two weeks figuring out how to buy and ship tactical supplies to Ukrainians fighting the Russian invasion of their country.
It's a complete change of pace for the Toronto mother, who runs a child-care business in the city after immigrating to Canada from Ukraine five years ago. Instead of progressing with plans to open a second location, she's pivoted to helping the war effort in Ukraine.
"It's like a woman's heart, right, it's like a mother. You want to care for people. You see the world and your country as a big family," she said in a recent interview.
Zaritsky, 27, was about to board a flight from Toronto to Ukraine last month when Russia's invasion began.
"My brother called me, like in 15 minutes, and he said, 'Please don't go here. We woke up from the bombs around us' ... Obviously the flight got cancelled," she says.
Zaritsky founded a non-profit organization that's collecting supplies to send to Ukraine. Working with a group of about 20 volunteers, the organization has already collected supplies that include first aid kits and thermal clothing to ship over to partner organizations.
The group is also collecting certain models of bulletproof vests, helmets and night-vision goggles and is in the process of applying for a special export permit to get those items to Ukraine.
"We are in critical need of the supplies," she says.
The Canadian government has promised her organization it will process the permit application quickly, Zaritsky says.
"They're not holding us back. They're supporting us," she says. "But because we all volunteers ... we do not have tons of experience, even like how to build the application."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that Canada would send another $50 million in specialized equipment, including Canadian-made cameras for surveillance drones, to help Ukraine defend itself.
Canada previously said it was shipping non-lethal equipment such as body vests and helmets, as well as more than $10 million in weapons such as machine-guns, rocket launchers and hand grenades.
Zaritsky's organization, called the Second Front Ukraine Foundation, has already helped to equip about 20 Ukrainian Canadian volunteers who flew recently from Toronto to join the fight against the Russian army.
"They're going to war now with their goodwill, so they're travelling and they can take some of these goods in small amounts," she says.
Svitlana Nechyporenko, who is working with Zaritsky after meeting her at a Toronto rally in support of Ukraine a few weeks ago, says Canadian residents headed to Ukraine are looking to help the fight in many ways and the non-profit is supporting them.
"These can be guys or girls who have immigrated here 10 or 20 years ago and now decided that this is going to be their new mission to go and, very bravely, go and help Ukrainians," says the 28-year-old.
"It doesn't mean that you want necessarily go and fight the Russians directly, but what you can also do, you can just help civilians keep living their life in Ukraine."
Nechyporenko, who came to Canada from Ukraine in 2013, says she is volunteering with the non-profit on top of working in her full-time job as a manager at another non-profit and trying to get members of her family from the country to Toronto.
"It's people like us who are the second front here," she says. "(We're) doing the best we can, not sleeping for 20 hours a day, and just working towards the same goal as any other Ukrainian."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2022.
Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press