Iryna Braun attends Portage's Saint Nicholas Orthodox Ukrainian Church. She explains the church serves somewhat of an extremely different opportunity for people of her heritage here than it does in Ukraine.

Braun moved from Ukraine four years ago and says many Ukrainian churches in Manitoba are being permanently closed, which is a concern for her. 

"Their doors will not open anywhere anymore," explains Braun. "They are abandoned because there are not enough people attending and not enough money to keep up with the church expenses. I came to understand that when I became president of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Portage. If a community will not support the church, it can happen to our church."

Iryna BraunIryna Braun

She says the church in her homeland of Ukraine is a place to pray and have a relationship with God. However, the Ukrainian Church in Canada does that and much more. 

"It's a cultural centre," notes Braun. "It's a place where our children who were already born in Canada learn to talk Ukrainian. It's where newcomers are getting their first relationship with local people. It's where the people help each other to find a job. It's where we help people who just arrived in Portage with everything. We support people who have some losses. We are happy people who are having babies."

She notes it's a place to socialize, maintain their culture, and keep up their work to develop their culture at place where they can stay together to communicate and pray. 

"If it's just about God, luckily we have lots of other churches in Portage where we can go. I'm trying to prove the point why we specifically need the Ukrainian Church in Portage. Recently, I understood that our income is not enough to cover our expenses. The source of our income is just like donations from parishioners, and money raised from pierogies sales. So, that's why I started a fundraiser on GoFundMe."

Braun explains many in Portage have Ukrainian heritage and you can help support with the smallest donation which they very much appreciate. 

"Also I want to make an important announcement that our pierogies are still the cheapest in Portage," continues Braun. "Every third Saturday of the month (this month it will be June 15th), our church will be open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for drive-through. You can come by stop by, get some pierogies, and it will not be just a purchase, it will be a good deal like a charity, a supporting action."

She says they're $6.00 per dozen. 

"The quantity of our parishioners is growing but, unfortunately, our donations are not growing so much because people are just settling up in Canada. Lots of them immigrated and weren't able to prepare while escaping the war. That's why it's hard for them to settle in Canada to start a new life and to donate a lot. So, I understand we need to give them some time to settle here and then I'm sure we will be able, as a community, to support our church by ourselves."

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Braun adds she's grateful for previous generations who likely had it hard, as well, but persisted to open the church through all those years.

"There is a couple in Portage, Joe and Tess Achtemichuk. It's very important to mention them because we are still happy to see them almost every church service, every Sunday. Many thanks to them for putting lots of efforts, time, and devotion into that. Donald Muirhead also donated us some money in memory of his neighbours, Steve and Tillie Trowsky."

She says people come to the church and ask about jobs in the community and places to live. Braun says they all help each other with children's clothing. 

"We exchange items and are very supportive of each other. My children were born in Ukraine but I brought them here when my daughter was four months old. I noticed that in between themselves, they already speak English. So, it's important for them to hear Ukrainian language at least somewhere else. I can talk to them at home, and it's a place to keep up Ukrainian traditions. The church is like a community centre. Unfortunately, we do not have a community centre in Portage for Ukrainians. If we would have maybe a Ukrainian restaurant, we would be able to get together there."

Check out their GoFundMe page by clicking here.

Donations to Saint Nicholas Orthodox Ukrainian Church are tax deductible.