Nonprofit group gives life lessons to Ukrainian refugee youth by sailing

After fleeing the war, more than 20 Ukrainian refugee youth set sail on Lake Ontario to build their knowledge, skills and sense of social belonging.

It’s part of a program set up by the non-profit group Broad Reach Canada, whose mission is to engage underprivileged youth through sailing. It stimulates the development of newcomers, vulnerable young people and oppressed minorities by teaching them to sail. Broad Reach organizes the program in collaboration with Sail Canada.

In Toronto, the young people gathered at the National Yacht Club on Sunday where they entered the water on three sailboats for two hours.

“Sailing is a microcosm of worldly and life challenges and problems,” said Marguerite Pyron, CEO of Broad Reach.

“You can’t run from them, you’re out there on the lake, you have nowhere to go, you have to learn how to resolve conflict, how to work as team members,” she added.

Sail Canada director John O’Dwyer said the water is a “great place to grow up”. He said it is “life-changing” for them to see Ukrainian youth sailing on Lake Ontario for the first time.

Yurii Siremko, 18, left, and Kiril Reveruk, 15, right, fled Kiev as the invasion of Ukraine began. They took part in the Broad Reach Canada sailing program on Sunday. (CBC)

For 18-year-old Yurii Siremko, he’s happy to be on the water, but it’s a bittersweet moment.

“But I also feel scary about my friends, my family, so it’s a contrast,” he said.

Siremko fled his hometown of Kiev shortly after the invasion of Ukraine. He is here alone in Canada, with friends and family at home. Sailing gives him some relief from what he has escaped, he said.

“It’s an extremely fast way to mature, I can say,” he said.

The Broad Reach program aims to give more than 200 Ukrainian youth the opportunity to sail all summer.

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