(L) Anastasiia Lukhtarova sits with her parents, newly arrived from Ukraine, and her husband and father in law. Anastasiia Lukhturova / Supplied (R) Veronika Vyhornytska with her sister, aunt, and nephew at Vancouver's waterfront. Veronika Vyhornytska / Supplied

From Ukraine to Canada: two refugee families adjust to life in Burnaby

Some of those who have made Burnaby their new homes, brought here by family members and relatives, are now adjusting to life in a new country.

By Srushti Gangdev | May 18, 2022 |5:00 am

It’s been nearly three months since the Russian invasion of Ukraine forced a mass exodus from the Eastern European country, in one of the fastest-growing refugee crises in the last century.

Some of those who have made Burnaby their new home, brought here by family members and relatives, are now adjusting to life in a new country.

Anastasiia Lakhturova

Burnaby resident Anastasiia Lakhturova’s parents (Valentyna Lakhturova and Serhii Lakhturov) arrived here late last month after a harrowing journey from Kharkiv, a city in northeastern Ukraine close to the Russian border that came under heavy shelling from the very beginning of the war.

When the war started, Lakhturova said her parents could see and hear explosions from their window.

“My parents are 72 and 73 years old, and they are retired; they’re former teachers. And the apartment they live [in is] on the 15th floor. When the war started, the elevator stopped working. So you can imagine how hard it was—they couldn’t even go to the grocers, they would have to go up and down,” Lakhturova told the Beacon.

“The closest store is like seven kilometers away, and public transport was not working. And they couldn’t drive because it’s not safe. So they did a few trips. They walked back and forth.”

Lakhturova, who was in the late stages of pregnancy at the time, was extremely worried about her parents’ safety and immediately tried to tell them they should leave Ukraine and join her and her husband in Burnaby.

At that point, many Ukrainians were refusing to leave, believing that the war would be over as quickly as it had started. But unfortunately, that would not be the case. Within weeks, a trickling of refugees became an outpouring.

“The train stations were crowded and even to get a cab to get to the train station, which is like 10 kilometres away, people started asking for so much money. So it was very stressful. [My parents] were refusing to leave because they thought they’re safer in the apartment,” Lakhturova said.

“And when we asked them ‘what are you guys gonna do when you don’t have electricity, you don’t have heat—and it’s wintertime, it’s cold, it’s not as warm as here—when you don’t have food, what are you guys gonna do’? And I think because of my baby coming, it was kind of a motivation in the first place for my mom to leave the country.”

It took Lakhturova’s parents five days just to flee Ukraine. First they had to take two trains to get to the Polish border, then another to Berlin, and yet another to Dusseldorf. A family member was able to bring them from Dusseldorf to the Netherlands.

Lakhturova said her parents and their fellow travelers were traumatized by the journey itself, which was rough and dangerous.

“[They put so] many people on the trains. At some point, they were even sitting on a bucket in a train. They didn’t have proper seats, they couldn’t use the washroom. So they would stop the train in the middle of nowhere,” Lakhturova said.

They likely had their first meal when they reached Poland—along the way, there was scarce access to food, water, or bathrooms.

Her parents stayed in the Netherlands for about three weeks while their visa to Canada got approved and while they recovered from the journey, which had left them weak and exacerbated health issues.

They finally reached BC in late April. It would have been a tight squeeze for them to move into Lakhturova’s small Brentwood-area apartment, where she lives with her husband and newborn daughter Athena.

Anastasiia Lakhturova's parents, Valentyna Lakhturova and Serhii Lakhturov, with her baby daughter Athena in Burnaby. Anastasiia Lakhturova / Supplied
Anastasiia Lakhturova’s parents, Valentyna Lakhturova and Serhii Lakhturov, with her baby daughter Athena in Burnaby. Anastasiia Lakhturova / Supplied

Lakhutorva said luckily, the response from the community in Burnaby and beyond has been incredible.

They were able to find a family to host them at SFU. From there, they went to stay with a Hungarian family that also lives in Burnaby. Over the summer, they might go and stay with Lakhturova’s husband’s family in Parksville. But they’re still looking for a permanent solution, Lakhturova said.

At the moment, Burnaby—and Canada—still don’t feel like home for Lakhturova’s parents. They’re having trouble adjusting to life here, and don’t know “what to do next or how to live next.”

Lakhturova is trying to keep them busy by having them help with taking care of baby Athena—she had to have an emergency C-section in March, which put a lot of stress on the family. Her father is thinking about maybe finding some part-time work in a bid to stay independent.

They’re still hopeful that one day they’ll be able to go back home. But, Lakhturova said, with their Kharkiv neighbourhood subjected to heavy shelling, who knows if home is still there?

Veronika Vyhornytska

It’s been a long few months for Veronika Vyhornytska, a Metrotown-area resident who works for a custom signage company in Burnaby.

After weeks of stress and fear, her sister Angelina, aunt Olha, and nephew Eric finally arrived in Burnaby just last Monday—but the family is now facing financial difficulties.

When the war began, Vyhornytska instantly began sending money back home to the Ukrainian army. But within weeks, there were more pressing matters at hand.

“My mom lost her job, then my sister lost her job, then everyone started losing their jobs because [Russia is] bombing every day,” she said.

Her whole family moved to Vyrhonytska’s mother’s house in order to stay together—but that meant that there were seven people all living in the same home, only two of whom were able to keep working. Because bombs were falling nightly, the family had to sleep in hallways in order to stay away from exposed windows.

Vyhornystka was under extreme stress here. She began taking mental health and sick days from her job in order to cope.

“I just couldn’t stop crying. I just couldn’t stop thinking, I couldn’t stop looking at my phone. Like, I couldn’t stop. It was just pain all the time. And I know every single Ukrainian is feeling that, and it’s a completely similar feeling we all have. So I started missing work. And obviously, not getting that much money,” she said.

“So that’s how I ended up basically sending all my money there. And that’s why I started a GoFundMe—because my friend was terrified with my life too, here. She was like, ‘I can see, I can tell you’re not living anymore.’”

On her friend’s advice, Vyhornytska started an online fundraiser to try and help with some of the costs, as she had already gone through all of her savings. Through the generosity of her community, she said she was able to buy her family tickets to Canada.

She had to convince them to leave, however. Her mom, Lika, didn’t want to leave Vyhornytska’s grandparents, who were refusing to flee. She had to plead Angelina and Olha as well, telling them that 6-year-old Eric couldn’t live under bombs.

What they could fit of their lives into two suitcases came with them—the rest is still in Ukraine.

Angelina, Olha, and Eric arrived in Vancouver last Monday, and while it’s been a rainy first week here, things are going well so far. Vyhornytska has gotten them set up with MSP coverage and SIN cards, and is working on finding English classes for them.

“[Mom] is still stuck in Germany [waiting for her visa]. We found her a family—they’re hosting her, they’re helping her, she’s learning English there. But she’s alone there. And it’s a bit heartbreaking still. But fingers crossed that it’s going to happen soon,” she said.

“And my sister and my aunt and my nephew are just relaxing after jetlag. … I’m also an immigrant, so I know how tough it is even on your body. Everything is so different in Canada. Ukraine is so different. So far, it’s been okay.”

While the newcomers are experiencing a slight culture shock, Vyhornytska said it’s a “nice” culture shock. She’s lived here for seven years and has told her family how much she loves the Lower Mainland, and now they’re getting to see it for themselves.

From left: Olha Ilnitskaya, Lika Vyhornytska, Angelina Kuznetsova, and 6-year old Eric. Veronika Vyhornytska / Supplied
From left: Olha Ilnitskaya, Lika Vyhornytska, Angelina Kuznetsova, and 6-year old Eric. Veronika Vyhornytska / Supplied

 

And Vyhornytska’s friends and community have been a big help as well—she said she knew they were all amazing people, but had no idea they would give that much kindness and support.

The problem now, however, is that once Lika arrives, there will be five people living in Vyhornytska’s small one-bedroom basement suite. While she doesn’t mind the cramped living quarters, it’s not a permanent solution.

“We’re looking for a place at least for my mom, my nephew and my aunt. A one-bedroom, anything will help. We found some places, … but they want them, obviously, to have income to have a job—but it’s so hard to get a job that fast. It’s been just a week, right? So every step is a new challenge for us,” Vyhornytska said.

She’s hoping to help Angelina and Olha find work soon, and is still finding a permanent place to stay for them. When they do find a new home, they’ll need everything from bedding to cutlery to clothing.

Another problem is the federally mandated health test that refugees are being required to take within 90 days of arrival in BC. While the provincial government has announced that Ukrainian refugees will be eligible for MSP coverage as soon as they arrive here, that test is not covered by insurance and can cost upwards of $400.

Vyhornytska said her family is worried about shouldering that cost.

In the meantime, she’ll do whatever it takes to keep them sheltered and safe.

“I’m trying to provide everything I have and everything I can. It doesn’t bother me at all to live with them. I don’t care, I can sleep on the floor as long as I know my family is safe, right?”

You can donate to Vyhornytska’s GoFundMe here.

If you’re looking for other ways to help out newly arrived Ukrainian refugees in Burnaby, you can find more information here.

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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