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Refugee receives unexpected gift

Anonymous benefactor in Okotoks reaches out to help young Ukrainian mom who fled to Canada with her son following Russian invasion.
NEWS-Iryna Tyrsa BWC 0255 web
Ukrainian refugee Iryna Tyrsa in Okotoks on May 25, where she is staying with relatives after fleeing her home following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Anonymous acts of kindness are supposed to stay that way, but this one is just too good to keep to myself. Don’t worry, the identity of the generous benefactors, who were adamant about not wanting any kind of publicity for their good deed, won’t be revealed. 

The story starts a couple of weeks back when a gentleman appeared at the front door of the Western Wheel office asking if we could go somewhere private to talk, so we retreated to an empty office where he told me his first name, but made it clear he wasn’t prepared to disclose anything else. 

Not long into the conversation he reached into his pocket to pull out a folded piece of newsprint, a page from the previous week’s edition of the Wheel featuring the story about Iryna Tyrsa, the Ukrainian refugee who recently settled in Okotoks along with her four-year-old son, having been forced to leave her husband behind while fleeing their war-torn country. 

The man proceeded to tell me that he was “fortunate,” and that he was looking to help her out, but would only do so on his own terms. He didn’t want any part of a GoFundMe campaign or to go through a middleman, he wanted to see Iryna in person. It was that or nothing. “I’ll hand her an envelope, she can thank me if she wants, and we’ll never see each other again,” he said, explaining how he expected the interaction to play out. 

I’ve been in newspapers long enough to have heard more than a few tall tales, so I have to say his need for secrecy as well as his insistence on meeting her in person gave me pause, but on the other hand he appeared genuine and assured me if there were any concerns about his motives, I could have Wheel staff, Iryna’s extended family or even the RCMP present for the meeting. 

I was apprehensive as I didn’t want to expose Iryna to any potential danger, but at the same time I didn’t want to scuttle this opportunity for her, so I reached out, explained the situation and we made arrangements for a face-to-face. The two came together last Wednesday morning at the Wheel office and true to his word, he arrived with an envelope full of cash, which he had previously assured me was not obtained by ill-gotten means. I don’t know how much money was in the envelope, and I didn’t think it was appropriate to ask, but suffice to say it was thick and Iryna was most grateful to receive it. 

She was visibly touched that a stranger in a country she’s called home for a very short time would make such a kind gesture. During the brief encounter, he recounted how his grandfather was quick to help people out, and how his mother and uncle carried on the tradition that he and his wife now practice, reiterating that he’s thankful to be in a financial position where he can lend a hand. 

Calling her brave, he told Iryna: “People like you make our country better.” I think the same could be said about our mysterious benefactor. 


Edward Murphy

About the Author: Edward Murphy

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