WORLD

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

MARY NEMETH February 3 1992
WORLD

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

MARY NEMETH February 3 1992

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

They met last September on a train platform in Berlin. John Powell, a vacationing retired schoolteacher who plays piano in an Ottawa jazz band, struck up a conversation with several choir members from the Technical Institute of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Later, back in Ottawa, Powell, 63, told a radio announcer about the problems of his new acquaintances—their stories of deprivation, lineups and empty store shelves. The day the interview was broadcast, Powell said last week, listeners delivered more than 25 bags of food and clothing to his home. And that was just the start. In December, Aeroflot agreed to fly to Moscow two tons of food and clothing that Powell had collected. The Russian choristers distributed the shipment to 450 needy people in St. Petersburg. In January, Powell

sent another four-ton cargo. “But that was just small potatoes,” he said. “They need massive help.” Now, Powell is appealing for 160 tons of goods, and offers from sympathetic Canadians are pouring in. “One farmer called me saying he had one horse, one cow, half a pig and a chocolate bar,” said Powell. “I think the chocolate bar was from his daughter.”

In addition to Ottawa’s official aid package, hundreds of individual Canadians and groups are sending gifts to the economically devastated former Soviet Union. The Salvation Army sent food, clothing and books to Russia before Christmas. The Canadian Executive Service Organization is planning to send more than 80 volunteers, most of them retired business experts or government officials, to the newly independent Baltic states as consultants.

In Toronto, Olga Kulikovsky-Romanoff and her husband, Tihon, a nephew of Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II, have launched an aid program named after Tihon's mother, the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, to supply orphanages, hospitals and other relief efforts. Meanwhile,

the Ukrainian-Canadian community has raised more than $1 million for victims of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. And Orthodox churches in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto have sent gifts ranging from flowers to hypodermic needles.

But some donors have encountered obstacles. Powell said that five of the 202 boxes of goods that he sent in January went missing. And Ottawa-area farmer Ross Baker, 54, says that he cannot find anyone to accept his donation. Last year, Baker wrote to Mikhail Gorbachev to offer the then-Soviet president the meat from one of his cows. Aeroflot agreed to provide transportation. But 700 lb. of Baker’s frozen, inspected beef is still in storage at an Ottawa plant because he has yet to receive word from the Kremlin that anyone will accept it. Said Baker: “I’m a little bit cheesed off.” But, he added, not as frustrated as the Russians who have no meat on their tables.

MARY NEMETH