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Bowen resident crochets for Ukrainian refugees

Former refugee wants to express support and awareness for those suffering the same current fate
Ribbon side by side print
Bowen resident Ise Duffek, herself a former refugee fleeing war, crocheted yellow and blue ribbons to raise awareness for refugees and victims of the current war in Ukraine.

Crises often spur people into wondering what they can do to help. And even if the gesture may seem small, every bit can add up to make a difference.

That’s the attitude of one long-time Bowen resident, Ise Duffek, who was inspired to action when she saw what was happening with those displaced by the war in Ukraine, particularly the millions of refugees forced to flee their homes.

“I know exactly what those poor Ukrainians have to go through now. And I thought, what can I do?” says Duffek, shortly before celebrating her 96th birthday this past weekend with her family.

Duffek, who came to Bowen in 1981, is originally from Germany. Her departure from the country was not a scheduled one. As the Soviets bore down on the country at the end of World War II, the teenage Duffek fled along with her mother and two younger brothers.

“Somebody picked us up by bus in the middle of the night… We each had our suitcases, and hopped on the bus… and managed to get on the boat,” she recalls. After finding many German cities already occupied by refugees fleeing Soviet advancement, the boat set sail north for Denmark.

Duffek and her family were given residence in a refugee camp vacated by retreating German forces. It would be their home for the next two-and-a-half years. “It was an awful time. When we left our city the Russians were already coming and we heard guns. So I know what it’s like, and I’ll never forget it… We just escaped in time.”

“When it says they’re hoping for just a few months, I’m sure the few months will turn into years. Because it’s just horrible to leave everything that all the generations have built up, and just take a suitcase of a few shirts and socks and jackets with you, and that’s all that’s left,” she says.

Duffek is a member of the Bowen Island SKY (Senior’s Keeping Young) Club. She decided to put her crochet skills to use, and made yellow and blue ribbons – representing the Ukrainian flag – for fellow members to wear on their walks around the island.

“I wanted them to think about our friends far away in Europe, with that little bit of a ribbon we can put on… it keeps us in touch somehow with them… Every little bit will help,” says Duffek.

She says she hopes anyone who sees the ribbons will think about Ukrainian refugees forced to flee their homes, and talk about the situation with their friends and families to see what they can do.

“That was my main idea, to make people think about these people. We live far away from danger… Everybody was safe and sound here on Bowen Island and in Canada,” says Duffek, calling the island she eventually settled on with her husband “one of the most peaceful places right now, and safe.”

Duffek has made about 15 ribbons so far… only stopping when she finally ran out of yellow and blue yarn. She says people are welcome to make their own, or come up with any other ideas to raise awareness and support.

“I only wish that the wise guys who were meeting, the heads of state, would think of a solution to prevent another war,” Duffek says of those actually in charge.