Bonnie Penner’s son is a Canadian embedded in the Ukrainian army, and he has been in Ukraine for almost three months.
It’s an intense time for a Kelowna family as the battle rages on the streets of Sievierodonetsk, Ukraine.
Bonnie Penner’s son is a Canadian embedded in the Ukrainian army, and he has 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 had exploded within five feet of him and bullets were whizzing past his head.
Penner says she is grateful to be able to talk to her son regularly through technology.
“I’m extremely grateful for the connection, but I also thought, you know, WWII mothers, they wouldn’t hear from their sons for months, and that would be a good thing and a bad thing.” , she says.
“Just like me hearing the reports and things going on. It’s a good thing, and it’s a bad thing, because I hear that a grenade went off next to him. But I hear also that he is safe.”
She does not know when he will return home, for although he is willing and can leave whenever he wishes, 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 his son told him that he and a group of international soldiers were planning to go to Ukraine to help in any way possible.
The Bravery Foundation is a British Columbia-incorporated non-profit corporation that supports displaced Ukrainians seeking refuge in Canada, civilians in Ukraine in need of medical supplies, and soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
She created the foundation with an eye to the future, knowing it would likely be needed for months or even years. She considered various aspects, including helping displaced Ukrainians, as she does in conjunction with Kelowna Stands with Ukraine and other local groups.
She also thought about what she would do if her son came back injured.
“Even in memory of my son if he didn’t come back alive. I just thought of all the different angles that a foundation like mine could serve,” she said.
Penner says she had many conversations with her three other sons about what happened with their brother, and they shared lots of hugs.
She also made lasting friendships within the Ukrainian community of Kelowna 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 start of the war.
“I speak a few foreign languages and have friends all over the world,” Arendarchuk told Castanet. “So (I) started calling them or they called me and we started thinking about what we could do. That’s how I met the wonderful people of Kelowna Stands With Ukraine and Bonnie was among them.”
She worked with friends in Poland to arrange transportation to bring the group of volunteer foreign soldiers to Ukraine. Since then, she has been in contact with Penner’s son, trying to get supplies to them.
“My family also lives in Rivne. We all help the army and the refugees. I have a special bond with Bonnie’s son as I am a mother of two boys. I consider Bonnie’s son my son now, along with all those brave defenders who fight for our freedom.
Arendarchuk collects authentic Ukrainian handicrafts and sends them to Kelowna, where volunteers sell them and raise funds for Ukraine.
While waiting for her son’s next update, Bonnie Penner helps a displaced Ukrainian family.
She has babysat the 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter of Ivanka, who arrived in the Okanagan in April and recently started working for Argus Hospitality Group.