When the Russians began bombing Ukraine’s power grid, approximately 40 per cent or more of the entire country was without electricity and, in some cases, water. Although the Ukrainian government has worked to improve the situation, the war is still active and the country’s electric and water services are still being targeted by Russian artillery and bombers. As a result, there is an ongoing need to continually replace vital services throughout the country so the Ukrainian people can stay warm, cook their food, and have a source of ongoing light when the national power grid system is down.
The Candles for Ukraine project actually began in Ukraine in 2014, during the war with Russia over the region of Crimea. The Ukrainian military first started making candles for use in the field out of recyclable materials such as tin cans, cardboard and the wax from candle stubs to dry their socks, warm their hands, heat a cup of water for tea, cook some food and provide a bit of light.
When the Russians invaded Ukraine in late February 2022, the military began making candles again. The civilian population adopted the military’s candle design to make their own candles for similar uses when they had no power or between times during the day when they received limited power from the grid, which continues today. As priority accessibility to power is given to hospitals and other vital organisations, Ukrainians often have sporadic access to electricity. Some, including the elderly and children, can go without power for five or six days at a time.
The candles made from recyclable materials burn for approximately four or five hours which is long enough to provide light for a room, heat a cup of tea, prepare food, or warm someone’s hands. When a larger candle is added to a clay pot, it provides even more heat for a room. The candles can withstand relatively strong winds without blowing out and give off little if any, harmful carbon emissions.
Organised groups in Ukraine, such as the Scouts – a worldwide organisation – are very active in making candles and distributing the candles throughout Ukraine.
How have the Portuguese and expat communities in Portugal helped?
The Scouts in Monchique are actively involved in making candles for Ukraine, as is the entire school district in Lagos. Children are painting the outsides of the candle containers with designs and loving messages of hope and inspiration for the Ukrainian civilians and military that will receive them.
Roman Grymaluk, a Ukrainian volunteer who is organising the Candles for Ukraine project, said he was nearly moved to tears when a five-year-old Portuguese boy in Monchique handed him a candle he’d made, saying, “This candle is for those brave people who are fighting for their freedom.” Grymalyuk mentioned that the “mental warmth” and emotional gift that Ukrainians receive from a candle made by foreigners who care is often more important than how the candle is actually being used.
The Câmara of Lagos has posted on their social sites asking for the community’s involvement, and Bombeiros of Lagos and Monchique have offered to be drop-off locations for the candles. The goal of the project organisers for the remainder of this year, is to have school districts, Scout troops and Bombeiros throughout Portugal participate in the Candles for Ukraine project.
Finally, TAP Air Portugal in Lisbon is flying palettes of candles made in Portugal nearly free of charge as carga voluntária to Poland for delivery to the military on the front lines and to people throughout Ukraine.
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Main photo: School in Lagos with Roman Grymalyuk of ORANTA, and a lady from the Junta Freguesia de Monchique (Roman is in the white T-shirt.)
How can you help?
The Portuguese non-profit organisation ORANTA, based in the Algarve, is sponsoring the Candles for Ukraine project. ORANTA is asking for municipalities, schools, social and community groups, families and individuals in Portugal to help by:
Spreading the word on websites and social groups. Several expat groups, including Americans and Friends in Portugal with over 20,000 members, Expats in the Algarve, and others, are currently sharing posts about the Candles for Ukraine and Ambulances for Ukraine projects
Making the candles (see QR link)
Donating old candles or paraffin, cardboard, tin cans and other recyclable materials that schools and community groups can use to make the candles
Acting as a drop-off location for the candles
Volunteering to help ORANTA organise this and other projects, including the Ambulances for Ukraine project and the Ukraine festival to be held in Lagos this summer