Ukrainian refugees land on Vancouver Island, leaving husband and father behind
Walking around Victoria’s Inner Harbour on Monday afternoon, it was the first time Ukrainian refugee Liudmyla Paliukh had ever seen the ocean.
The mother of two escaped war-torn Ukraine last week with her 14 year old son, Oleksandr, fleeing to Germany.
In Germany, she was met by her daughter, 24-year-old Kateryna, who lives in Victoria and who flew to Germany last Tuesday to greet her mother and brother. They all arrived in Victoria on Saturday night.
Liudmyla and her son left their home in the city of Khmelnytskyi in such a hurry they only packed some medication, a few items of clothing, documents including passports, some family photos and their family dog.
“They probably took an hour to pack everything they could with them and then flee,” said Kateryna, who came to Victoria as a 17-year-old before studying at UVic. She now works for the provincial government.
Painfully, Liudmyla had to leave Kateryna's father — her husband — behind in Ukraine. As a man between the ages of 18 and 60 years, he isn’t allowed to leave the country, and is staying behind with the expectation he will help fight the Russians.
“We are hoping to get reunited soon,” said Kateryna on Monday.
Liudmyla doesn’t speak English, so her daughter translated for her, including her mother’s delight at spotting a Ukrainian flag flying at the Hotel Grand Pacific on the other side of the Inner Harbour.
“She got so happy,” said Kateryna, as her mother clutched her hand to her chest in emotion. “It’s almost as if we are back in Kyiv.”
After arriving in Victoria Saturday night, Liudmyla was especially touched by the solidarity shown to Ukrainians in the streets of Victoria on Sunday — a rally involving an estimated 2,000 people lining Douglas Street.
“Driving through Victoria we saw so many flags, Ukrainian flags in people's windows, and it brought us to tears because it means a lot in our current situation,” said Kateryna, translating her mother’s words.
That type of support was evidenced by the $15,000 raised in donations and meal purchases at Victoria's Ukrainian Cultural Centre since the war started.
Devon Sereda Goldie, president of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre, is also the head of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress’s Victoria branch, and says the money will be used to help refugees get settled in Victoria.
“We’re hoping to put that money towards helping Ukrainian families that are connected to our community and new immigrants come to Canada and get settled,” she said Monday as she and colleagues tabulated the money donated so far.
And for Vancouver Islanders looking to continue helping, she pointed to a new website that's been launched called Help Ukraine Vancouver Island.
The website lists reliable places to donate and is soliciting volunteers who want to help with everything from meals to assisting with accommodations.
“That is the best place right now if you want to do something to help,” said Goldie.
For the moment, mother and son are living with Kateryna. They don't know when they’ll see their father and husband next, but are grateful for the warm and supportive welcome they’ve received in their first few hours in Canada.
“In Ukraine, it’s the twelfth day of war, twelfth day of tears, twelfth day of pain and suffering, but we want to thank everybody who supports us and we want to say we will rebuild our country and that we will persevere and that we will win this,” said Kateryna, translating for her mother.
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