“No one is crying. It’s just a shock’: Former area photographer helps Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria (4 photos)

“We have to be there for these people. That’s exactly the right thing,” says Don Komarechka, who now lives just outside the city of Varna

Former Barrie resident Don Komarechka, who now calls Bulgaria home, is stepping in to help displaced Ukrainian refugees pouring into the eastern European country, which is not far from the nation that fell victim to the brutal Russian invasion .

Komarechka is known to many in Barrie and the surrounding area for his macro photography of snowflakes and his art book on capturing the tiny ice crystals. These days he puts down his camera to help others.

In October 2021, he packed up his family and escaped North America’s hamster wheel to live a quieter and cheaper life with his wife, a Bulgarian, in a small village outside the city of Varna on the Black Sea coast.

On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine, sending waves of refugees to the safe havens of surrounding countries.

Komarechka began seeing an influx of Ukrainian refugees into his territory in Bulgaria about a week and a half after the outbreak of hostilities.

Struggling to accommodate people, the city began using a large sports complex as well as other makeshift refugee centers wherever they could.

“A lot of people just come on a bus with what they had with them at the time, and that’s all they have,” Komarechka said. “And they’re trying to put together a network of friends and support and they don’t even know where to start. We have to be there for these people. It’s spot on.

“I don’t want to put words in their eyes, but when I look at them, I know that not a minute goes by that they don’t think about the men in their lives who are fighting in Ukraine, or the people they love lost,” he added. “It’s almost like a shell shock. nobody cries It’s just a shock.”

Komarechka says he didn’t think twice about helping or not.

“I just grab what we need most, throw it on my credit card and drive a car full of stuff over to these people asap,” he said. “We did that on average around three to five runs a week helping these people.

“It’s funded by us. We’re definitely in the red on this front, but also by people who, out of the goodness of their hearts, have thrown money at me and said, “I trust you to spend it wisely,” and so do I. It’s not like I give out charity receipts for this; it’s just part of the process as there wouldn’t be time to organize it any other way.”

It’s all very informal, he says. Lists are posted in the various refugee centers of what is most needed on that particular day, or volunteers are given verbal instructions on what is needed at that moment.

And not only food and hygiene items are needed, but also items for children.

“We also get art supplies, building blocks, puzzles and toys for the children,” said Komarechka.

Why the generosity in his particular case?

“My heritage is Ukrainian so that might play a role but if I was back in Canada I would have no other option to help directly other than donate it to charity and make it disappear everywhere and end up with a very little feel-good factor for a while,” said Komarechka. “But I can help directly here. I don’t have any military or medical training or anything, so I can’t fight directly, but I feel like you have to do something, and no matter how much you do, it will never be enough.

As an artistic photographer, there are other ways Komarechka can help the cause.

“You can also create artwork that I have. There are four images that I have made public and anyone can do anything with those who support Ukraine and I can use that awareness to generate some funds to help these people who have nothing,” he said .

When asked how friends and family in Canada feel about the situation, a sense of helplessness creeps in.

“The general consensus of people in Barrie that I speak to is that they just don’t know what to do,” Komarechka said. “And they say they remember me from Barrie and you’re on the Black Sea coast. So maybe I can use you as a vessel to make the world a better place because we’re so far from it. And I like to think I can help make that easier.

“A lot of friends and family in the Barrie area donated money and a few people organized a fundraiser which they combined and sent to me,” he added. “I’ve received a few donations from individuals of up to $600, and through organized crowdfunding, I’ve received a few multi-source donations of up to $1,700. It was great because it keeps me going for a few more days and a few more runs.

“Some loads are for requests for toilet paper, other times it’s canned meat and that gets a bit more expensive. I think on average I spend about $800 a day when we go for a run. And it was only activated by people at home, so thank you, and you know it got straight to the people who need it.

His Facebook page, Don Komarechka Photography, shares his efforts and needs while documenting his experiences. Komarechka also accepts donations for the good cause and can be reached via Facebook Messenger from his page.

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