Jessica Klymchuk, News Editor Ω
Pride might be suppressed in Russia, but TRU students are making sure LGBTQ Russians seeking asylum in Canada know that this won’t be the case in their new home.
The TRUSU pride collective has been gathering donated goods and building care packages for Russian refugees in Vancouver. Recent anti-gay legislation in Russia and protests ending in violence has caused many members of the LGBTQ community to flee to Canada. Reports of Russians seeking refugee status in Vancouver surfaced in August.
“They’re actually coming over with only the clothes on their backs,” TRUSU pride collective representative Nic Zdunich said. “They’re basically going from their middle-class lifestyles to living in homeless shelters with absolutely nothing, so we’re trying to help them wherever we can.”
The pride collective makes an effort to discuss issues within the LGBTQ community, and homophobia in Russia was something that came up in September. Zdunich contacted Vancouver immigration lawyer Rob Hughes, who has been working with the refugees, to see how they could help.
The collective learned that refugees as young as 18 are unable to do anything for their first four months in Canada while their paperwork is processed so they can attain refugee status. Many of them escaped their Russian towns and went to Canadian embassies just trying to get across.
“Canada has been welcoming so far, and [Hughes] said he should be able to get most of them to stay,” Zdunich said.
Since mid-September, the collective has been campaigning and taking donations such as toothbrushes, gift cards, warm clothing, phone cards and toiletries. Zdunich said people were very quick to contact local dentists, doctors and businesses for donations with great success. It’s even looking like the goal of 20 care packages might be surpassed.
“It’s been really great that they took that initiative, and it really shows that people are interested in this campaign so it’s neat,” Zdunich said.
The collective was campaigning in Old Main on Oct. 17 to collect more items, but also invited people to write messages of welcome and support to send alongside. Each one will include about ten messages of encouragement.
“The response from people has been great. A lot of people still aren’t aware of what’s going on in Russia. The most attention has come with the Olympics and Sochi,” Zdunich said.
Anyone can donate items up until Oct. 29 at the TRUSU members’ desk. Everything is welcome, but they are looking to collect more heavy sweaters, socks and umbrellas.
Zdunich will be personally delivering the care packages on Nov. 1 to meet some of the refugees and hear their stories.