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Finally in Canada. Two families’ troubles on the run from war

Apr 20, 2023 | Life, Immigration, Canada, Featured, News

Ukrainian refugees board a plane before flying to Canada, from Frederic Chopin Airport in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, July 4, 2022. Phan Thị Kim Phuc, the girl in the famous 1972 Vietnam napalm attack photo, on Monday escorted 236 refugees from the war in Ukraine on a flight from Warsaw to Canada. Phuc’s iconic Associated Press photo in which she runs with her napalm-scalded body exposed, was etched on the private NGO plane that is flying the refugees to the city of Regina. Photo: AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk

Oleksandra Chorna

‘It was one of the hardest trips in my life. We were travelling through a northern Russian city Tiumen to Moscow, spent the night there. After that, we flew to Abu Dhabi, spending 14 hours there and for another 14 hours we were flying to Canada’’. That’s just one of the many memories Ukrainian refugee Ludmyla has about her trip to Canada. And though moving from place to place has been a big part of her life, she never thought she would end up on another continent. And yet here she is, in her apartment in Etobicoke.

But let’s start from the beginning. Ludmyla and her husband are ethnic Ukrainians. They moved from their native Western Ukraine to Russia back in the early 90s. At that time, Ukraine was only starting to regain its independence and many people didn’t have proper Ukrainian passports yet. Ludmyla’s family wasn’t an exception – she and her husband arrived in Russia on Soviet passports and with time, they got Russian ones. They settled in a small village in the Far North of the country. They got jobs, had two daughters and occasionally paid visits to their relatives back in Ukraine. They never thought their lack of Ukrainian citizenship could become a problem and prevent them from seeing their family, until February 24, 2022 happened.

After the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, anti-Ukrainian propaganda reached its peak in Russia and soon Ludmyla’s family became overwhelmed by it. Many of Ludmyla’s colleagues also fell under its influence and soon she couldn’t recognize the people she’s been working with for so long. They, just like many other Russians, didn’t read any independent Internet news sources and firmly believed the country’s mainstream media.

‘’Every time I tried to tell them the truth, they would say it’s all fake. When I tried to point out on things like border closures or sanctions they’d say ‘‘We lived like that before, we’ll live through it now, no big deal’.’’ With time, it only got worse.

Unwilling to put up with all the propaganda and constant silencing, the family decided to leave Russia for good.

First, they tried to visit their relatives back in Ukraine, however by the time they started preparing for moving, they found that Ukraine closed its borders to Russian citizens.

‘’Our second option was to move to Poland, our older daughter studied there. But soon we learned that Russian citizens weren’t allowed in Poland either’’, Ludmyla recalls. Her voice breaks as she remembers the moment of a full realization: her and her daughter’s separation will be a long one.
‘’We knew that after the border closures, we won’t be able to see our child for who knows how long, and unfortunately, we were late to come to her’’.

The family had no choice, but to look for shelter elsewhere.

They thought to go to Kazakhstan, but as they sold their apartment in Russia and gathered the needed sum of money for moving, that country also closed its borders to Russian citizens. That’s how the family decided to give a second shot to Canada.

Getting a CUAET visa was the new challenge on their way. They had to travel 3,000 kilometres from their village to Ekaterinburg (a Russian city), to do biometry for their visas as well as prepare all necessary documents.

‘’We were on the road for two days straight: my husband had to sleep right in his driver’s seat, I slept in the back’, Ludmyla recalls. You can still hear an echo of past troubles in her voice as she remembers those days.

Eventually, after gathering all the necessary papers, it seemed like the family was ready to go. But another obstacle arose: getting tickets.

‘’These two months of preparing to move were another level of nerve-wracking. I thought my hair was going to go gray’’, says Ludmyla. Ludmyla’s family wasn’t the only one with such stressful experience.
Another Ukrainian family from Kyiv also had to face their refugee struggles before finding their way to Canada.

Living in a small Kyiv suburb, they witnessed the Russian bombing with their own eyes.
‘’Our house is located 30 km from Kyiv and when Russia first started bombing the night of the 24th, we saw those bombs’’, says Natalya, the mother of the family. That morning she and her husband Oleksandr packed their things and along with their two sons, 10 and 14, left for Poland first.
Their situation was complicated by their children’s rare genetic condition: they have to follow a certain diet to keep their bodies functioning.

‘’Kids like them need special medical care which I knew would be lacking during war’’, says Natalya.
And though Poland was a safe place and provided the necessary medical services, the family didn’t feel quite comfortable there, from the struggles to learn Polish to finding a job. That’s why in April they decided to move to Canada and are currently residing in Toronto. Natalya is now working as a music teacher in one of the local schools and her husband works as a truck driver. Their sons go to a Canadian school and are getting used to studying in a foreign language.

Natalya says that after a long while her family started feeling hopeful again.

‘’The first 4 months were the hardest for us in terms of adaptation. Only now we started regaining hope for the future’’, she says.

As for Ludmyla and her family, they are also now settled here: she is working as a cleaning lady, her husband has a job at the construction site and their younger daughter goes to a Canadian school. They have made friends with their Ukrainian neighbours who now are the closest people the family has. But above all they refuse to lose hope: they firmly believe that one day, when the war ends, they’ll finally walk on Ukrainian soil and see everybody they’ve been separated from for so long.
‘’It’s this hope that keeps us going and doesn’t allow us to give up’’, Ludmyla smiles.

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