Photo: Bonnie Penner
Bonnie Penner with 9-year-old Maxim and 6-year-old Natalia, who came to Kelowna with their mother Ivanka in April, 2022.
It’s an intense time for a Kelowna family as the battle rages in the streets of Sievierodonetsk, Ukraine.
Bonnie Penner’s son is a Canadian embedded with the Ukrainian army, and he’s been in Ukraine for almost three months. He previously served in the French Foreign Legion.
Last Wednesday, he contacted Bonnie and shared that he had been involved in intense street fighting against Russian soldiers. She also learned that two grenades detonated within five feet of him, and that bullets were whizzing past his head.
Penner says she’s grateful that, thanks to technology, she can speak to her son on a regular basis.
“I’m extremely grateful for the connection, but I thought too, you know, the moms back in World War II, they wouldn’t hear from their sons in months, and that would be a good thing and a bad thing,” she said.
“Just like me hearing the reports and things that are going on. It’s a good thing, and it’s a bad thing, because I get to know that a grenade went off beside him. But I also get to know that he’s safe.”
She doesn’t know when he will come home, because while he’s a volunteer and could leave whenever he wants, he believes the fight for control of Severodonetsk is the most important battle of the war and could decide its outcome.
Penner started The Bravery Foundation as soon as her son told her he and a group of international soldiers planned to make their way to Ukraine to help in whatever way they could.
The Bravery Foundation is a BC incorporated not-for-profit society, that supports displaced Ukrainians seeking shelter in Canada, civilians in Ukraine in need of medical supplies and soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
She set up the foundation with an eye on the future, knowing it would likely be needed for months, or years to come. She considered various aspects, including helping displaced Ukrainians, like she is doing in conjunction with Kelowna Stands with Ukraine, and other local groups.
She also considered what she would do if her son came back injured.
“Even in memorial of my son if he didn’t come back alive. I just thought of all the different angles a foundation like mine could serve,” she said.
Penner says she has had plenty of conversations with her three other sons about what has been happening with their brother, and they have shared lots of hugs.
She has also made lasting friendships within the Kelowna Ukrainian community, and with a woman she has never met in person.
Tatiana Arendarchuk is from the Ukrainian city of Rivne. She helped get Bonnie’s son into Ukraine, but that’s not all. She has been integral in so many other ways.
Tatiana has been helping the Ukrainian army and refugees since the war began.
“I speak a couple of foreign languages and I have friends all over the world,” Arendarchuk told Castanet. “So (I) started to call them or they called me and we started to think what we could do. That’s how I met the wonderful people from Kelowna Stands With Ukraine and Bonnie was among them.”
She worked with friends in Poland to set up transportation to get the group of volunteer foreign soldiers into Ukraine. Since then, she’s been in contact with Penner’s son, trying to get supplies to them.
“My family lives in Rivne as well. All of us are helping the army and the refugees. I have a special bond with Bonnie’s son as I’m a mother of two boys. I consider Bonnie’s son to be my son now, as well as all those brave defenders fighting for our freedom.”
Arendarchuk has been collecting authentic Ukrainian crafts and sending them to Kelowna, where volunteers sell them and raise money for Ukraine.
While she waits for the next update from her son, Bonnie Penner is helping a displaced Ukrainian family.
She has been babysitting the 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter of Ivanka, who came to the Okanagan in April and recently started working for Argus Hospitality Group.