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on May 18, 2024

Donor Profile: Rayla Myhal

1. When did the Myhal Family Foundation start supporting the Ukrainian World Congress's Unite with Ukraine initiative?

Our support for the Ukrainian community in Canada has been steadfast, and we have been working in Ukraine with some interest, however we didn't have much to do with support systems for Ukraine because the full scale invasion hadn't happened yet. When Pavlo introduced the Unite with Ukraine initiative and explained the concept to us, we readily agreed to support it. George and I have been supporters of Unite with Ukraine since its inception. We wouldn't think of saying no to Paul or the UWC for anything Ukraine-related.

2. Among the various initiatives aimed at supporting Ukraine, what aspects of Unite with Ukraine stood out to the Myhal Family Foundation, leading to your decision to support this particular initiative?

We were impressed by the exceptional work done by Unite with Ukraine. Andriy Potichnyj's leadership was particularly notable, as he relocated from Canada to Ukraine to provide on-ground support. This was a crucial factor in our decision to support their projects. Andriy's strategic vision and guidance ensured our contributions were directed towards meaningful and necessary initiatives. He is meticulous in choosing the right projects, which greatly influenced our decision to work with UWC and Unite with Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine encompasses various aspects of daily life, not just the people and elements of war. Drones have become an effective and cost-efficient tool in the war, and thus, we decided to work with Andriy and Unite with Ukraine.

The partnership with the Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation was something we were pleased with. We always look for ways to collaborate with different organizations within the Ukrainian community and diaspora. George and I have supported and encouraged this over the years, and it was a significant factor for us. We were extremely pleased with their collaborative work in fundraising for and acquiring the armored vehicles needed to demining operations in Kherson Oblast. When asked to contribute, George and I pondered how we could make a meaningful impact. We decided to donate a million dollars as a "donor match," where the Myhal Family Foundation would match every dollar raised during the joint Ukrainian World Congress and Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation fundraising effort in North America to encourage the communities to contribute. We were overjoyed when Andriy informed us that we had procured three times as many vehicles as we initially hoped to provide. This effort required minimal input from us, yet it has resulted in a tremendous output that will significantly benefit the people of Ukraine. We are proud to have supported this cause.

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Andriy has a remarkable ability to work with former soldiers who were injured and subsequently demobilized, which I find incredibly meaningful. He works with a group of talented gentlemen called Klamra, who create art pieces for our Tryzub Awards Gala. I asked if they could create centerpieces for me, and Andriy said they could, even out of artillery shells. I was amazed by their artistry, craftsmanship, and attention to detail. The outcome of their creative force surpassed my expectations, and I couldn't be happier. What's more, Andriy works with them to give them a purpose after they've sacrificed so much, which means so much to us. We always strive to help the community and support them post-war.

What do recovery, rebuilding, and regrowth look like? On a small scale, it means giving back to those who have sacrificed so much for Ukraine and giving them a sense of purpose. This is one of Andriy's most beautiful creations, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it, cheering them on. I'm happy to do it and will continue to work with them as long as they'll have me annoying them.

3. Could you share some success stories or significant outcomes from this collaboration?

There have been many accomplishments with Unite with Ukraine, and they have all been successful. Our work is productive, not just in acquiring arms, machinery, or vehicles, but in creating meaningful programs for the community. When working with them, we strive to involve the entire diaspora and encourage them to work together. Thanks to the initiatives brought forth by Unite with Ukraine, we have been able to increase participation tenfold. We ask everyone to contribute, no matter how much - $10, $50, $50,000, or even a million dollars. Transparency is paramount for Unite with Ukraine, especially for the Canadian community. It is always beneficial when an organization is open and forthcoming with how the funds are being utilized, what they have procured, and how they have ensured they are getting the best value for the money spent. It is also essential that the items procured are of the highest quality to help sustain the soldiers on the front lines. Any organization that benefits from the soldiers should also uphold the same level of transparency.

Our organization is focused on more than just making minor fixes. It's about creating a meaningful impact, inspiring others to get involved, fostering growth, and giving purpose to our work. Our partnership with Unite with Ukraine has enabled us to achieve all these goals. We have supported their drone program and have had the pleasure of working with some fantastic people. We have also facilitated small grassroots projects within the community that have raised thousands of dollars and helped to fund the drone program.

Unfortunately, sometimes, we work against each other, which can be counterproductive. However, our collaboration with UWC and Serhiy Prytula has demonstrated that communities can achieve great things when they work together. This partnership between an established charity and a community on opposite sides of the world is a testament to the power of collaboration.

It's hard to pick just one example of the impact we've made through our work with Unite with Ukraine. Every project we've undertaken with them has yielded tangible results and positively impacted the community. I am proud of everything we've achieved together.

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4. Is there the so-called "Ukraine fatigue," and how do you deal with it while trying to raise funds for Ukraine?

It's important to acknowledge that Ukraine fatigue is a natural phenomenon. People can become overwhelmed when presented with too much information or asked to do too much. The Ukrainian community has already done an incredible amount, but there is always more work. We must be mindful of this fatigue and pace our efforts accordingly. Our foundation hosts an annual gala event called the Tryzub Awards, which acknowledges and honors Ukrainian leaders from the Canadian diaspora and individuals who are not Ukrainian but have supported Ukraine and Ukrainians. This event aims to bring together Canadians from all backgrounds and ethnicities to support Ukraine and raise awareness of its current and past issues. Our primary focus is to encourage those who are not Ukrainian to continue supporting Ukraine meaningfully. The gala has been successful in this regard, allowing us to raise almost a million dollars in the first year following the war in Ukraine.

The money was donated to Ukrainian organizations to support the humanitarian efforts of taking in community members who had fled the war in Ukraine. We provided them with all the necessary aid and assistance, including mental health programs, outreach programs, housing, food, services, and jobs. However, it is essential to speak not only to the Ukrainian community but also to non-Ukrainians. Although two years have passed since the war, we still need support and creative ways to work around the limitations. We reach out to various organizations outside the community to ensure they know the ongoing situation and help us. The support may not be in the same numbers as before, but we still need your support and presence at the table to discuss rebuilding, restructuring, and reinforcing Ukraine. The fatigue is real, but we are working through it within and outside the community to ensure we provide the necessary assistance.

5. Looking ahead, what is your vision for Ukraine's future, and how does the Myhal Family Foundation plan to contribute to that vision?

This is a challenging question to answer. Unfortunately, some situations and forces work against us. However, before the full-scale invasion, we had partnered with an organization in Ukraine to create the Lviv IT Park. The goal was to build a hub where some of the most talented people could work and offer Ukraine's intellectual resources to the world. Although the war caused the project to lose momentum, we still believe in its potential. We are still committed to making Lviv IT Park a reality, and there is no doubt in my or George's mind that we will achieve it. Although it did not happen two years ago, we plan to make it happen when the time is right, and we can involve more people to make a significant impact. This idea has always been present and will continue to be.

Other aspects need to be addressed in light of the ongoing war and the situation in Ukraine. One of these is working with businesses in Ukraine that are helping to create a solid foundation for its future. One that we are proud to work with is Horizon Capital and its founder, Lenna Koszarny. We've invested in her fund and are thrilled to do so because of the incredible work and advocacy for Ukraine on a global stage that Lenna does. She brings investors into the country, even during war when people typically distance themselves. Lenna's leadership has played a crucial role in this, and we're happy to support her efforts.

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Last year at our gala, I made a promise that George and I would support Ukraine in rebuilding its infrastructure, hospitals, schools, and universities. Our goal is to provide meaningful employment opportunities and a sense of purpose to the citizens of Ukraine. This is why we support the Ukrainian World Congress' Unite with Ukraine initiative with the armed forces, as it aligns with our vision of a Ukraine where people work together to uplift the community and establish a stronger nation. We understand that this will take time, and we urge people and organizations to work together rather than separately to avoid duplicating efforts and to make our job easier in garnering support for the Ukrainian people. Our vision for Ukraine is complex, but we hope to see it flourish and become a beacon of hope for other nations.

6. How do you perceive the international community's response to the situation in Ukraine, and what more do you believe needs to be done?

Canada is fortunate to have diverse communities, and we can easily exchange ideas and opinions. It's a complex issue in the sense that, in the beginning, everyone supported Ukraine without any hesitation. It was unprecedented, and no political or cultural barriers prevented anyone from offering financial or other support to Ukraine.

That mindset was sustained for almost a year; however, fatigue inevitably set in as other wars and issues began to take precedence. When the focus is diverted from an urgent matter, it's natural for interest to decline gradually. Nevertheless, people, organizations, and government officials still strongly support the Ukrainian cause. While it's impossible to speak for the entire community, most of us are grateful for that support. We would love to see it reach the same level as on February 25th, but that will not happen again. We must be realistic and acknowledge that the status quo has changed. So, how do we reignite the community's interest and support for Ukrainians now? Unite with Ukraine is doing an excellent job in this regard.

Many organizations, such as Saint Javelin, are doing a great job sharing information with the public on social media. The days when news agencies were the only source of information are long gone. Now, anyone with a cell phone can become a reporter and share first-hand accounts of what's happening on the ground. It's crucial to continue sharing this kind of information and videos because it shows the human aspect of the situation from the perspective of those experiencing it. These stories hold more significance for everyday viewers who are watching this. We can no longer rely on the support of the government, large businesses, or organizations. Instead, we need to focus on the average person in the community who will push the cause forward and support it from a grassroots perspective. That's where the real change will come from.

7. Would you like to share a message or story of hope from Ukraine with our audience?

If you want me to convey a message to the people of Ukraine and express our sentiments here, reassure them that they are not forgotten. The Ukrainian diaspora in Canada has always remembered and cared for Ukraine and its people, both when they first arrived here and now. I want to let the people of Ukraine know that you have sent us your most precious possessions - the children who have come here. Their presence profoundly moves me, bringing me to tears to think about it. My daughter attends St.Demetrius Ukrainian Catholic school here, and we have taken in 250 children and their families. Thanks to the leadership of our principal, Lily Hordienko, our small school has grown from 250 to over 500 students. These children had a traumatizing experience that I wouldn't want anyone else to go through. Many children came to our country after leaving a war-torn place. They were filled with trauma from what they saw and experienced. Often, they didn't want to leave their Baba and Dido behind.

We also still have family members there, so we understand their situation. Many parents, including fathers, sons, uncles, and brothers, have been separated from their families. We take this experience seriously at our school and do not dismiss it lightly. The community provided the newcomers with homes, jobs, resources, and financial support. Despite our school community’s good will, we didn't receive the necessary support from the board.

I implemented a mental health program at our school that focused on teachers, parents, and children. We didn't just focus on the kids who came from Ukraine but also the ones who were already at our school and were trying to understand and empathize with the new students. The Ukrainian National Anthem was played and sung at our school, and people spoke Ukrainian. As a result, the students from Ukraine felt more welcome and comfortable, and all the kids at our school benefited from the program.

It's jarring to walk into a room where you don't understand what people are saying to you and can't convey your feelings. These kids came from trauma, so I brought in experts who are familiar with generational trauma to help them.

A social worker visits the school weekly to work with these kids and their families, providing support and helping them navigate the system. Fortunately, our community rallied around this school to help these kids.

When I met First Lady Olena Zelensky, I told her about our responsibility to protect these children and help them heal until they return home. We're here to educate them, help them thrive and grow, and help them learn from what we have to offer as Canadians and take that knowledge with them. I made it clear to the First Lady that I wouldn't permit the kids we received to be returned in the same damaged state. Instead, we will provide them with education, care, and love and surround them with our community's support. Our goal is to heal them entirely, and hopefully, they will willingly return to their homes and share their experiences with the wider Ukrainian community. They can tell everyone about the effective programs to help them heal and grow. This will help spread the message of love and support across Ukraine. That is the greatest thing we, as a community, have ever done. As a philanthropist within this community, the most significant thing I have done is to help these children and send them back better than they came. Although our intention is not for them to always go back, we want them to be able to do great things for Ukraine. We still remember Ukraine and its people, taking this responsibility seriously.

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We aim to encourage all the children we send back to do better and be great leaders in Ukraine. We have taken in children as young as two or three years old and as old as 15 or 16. By the time we send them back, we hope they will be well-educated and accomplished individuals who will want to return and positively impact their country. Sending them back broken does nothing for anyone.

8. Reflecting on your philanthropic journey, how has supporting Ukraine impacted you personally and the foundation's overall direction?

I never thought being involved in the Ukrainian community would be so meaningful to me. It's fantastic to see the output of our work and how it impacts the community. It's all about working with the community, having meaningful conversations, and being involved in organizations that align with my beliefs. I have built incredible relationships through my work and advocacy for Ukraine. One organization that particularly impressed me is Global Medic, which has done great work in Ukraine. Recently, I started a new project with them where we're building vertical greenhouses in Moldova. We're doing vertical farming to provide Ukrainians with better nutrition and healthcare and bring this technology into Ukraine. It might sound strange because Ukraine is known as the breadbasket of Europe, but there are many aspects of proper nutrition and healthcare that this project can address.

Moreover, it is community-run and provides skill sets to people, allowing them to be productive and give back to their communities. Seeing the impact of these programs on individuals and communities is the most fulfilling part of my work. When we start at the grassroots level and allow everyone to have a say at the table and a meaningful purpose, it changes how people work, volunteer, and help each other. I want this for Ukraine. I want people to learn from our work, share their knowledge, and accomplish great things with the information they have gained. This is the true success of our work.

I may be just a tiny part of this, but many people have been very generous with their time, efforts, and finances. I have a list of people I work with who are also my friends, and we often sit together and discuss how we can help more and do something more meaningful. We share what we have learned and try to find ways to get various groups to work together. There is so much good in Canada's local and more significant communities. This makes us strong as a community and Canadians, which we highly value.

I feel excited and hopeful for the future of Ukraine.

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