Escaping from ‘hell to heaven,’ Ukrainian refugee recounts survival and arrival to Kelowna | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Escaping from ‘hell to heaven,’ Ukrainian refugee recounts survival and arrival to Kelowna

Ukrainian refugees eat hamburgers in Waterfront Park Saturday, April 16, 2022.

A Ukrainian refugee who has fled her country with her two children describes the current situation in Ukraine as “hell” and Canada as “heaven.”

Eleni from Southern Ukraine spoke through translator Ievgen, a Kelowna Stands with Ukraine volunteer, during a barbeque lunch for volunteers and refugees, April 16. Both requested not to use their last names as they are concerned for relatives who are still in the midst of the war in Ukraine.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, more than four million people have fled the country, creating the largest refugee crisis Europe has faced since the Second World War. Canada is offering a fast-tracked visa option for Ukrainians to live and work in the country for up to three years.

READ MORE: UN says Ukraine war threatens to devastate many poor nations

Eleni fled for her children and because because of the “fear and horror” she experienced in Ukraine.

“It’s been a huge stress,” she said. “It’s a fear. It’s hard to describe. I can feel it in my eyes and your ears and your mouth, it’s just shock. I am a witness to what happened. It’s hard for me to talk about.”

She has been in Kelowna for a week and said Canadians have been overwhelmingly welcoming and helpful.

“It’s like I jumped from hell to heaven and you see the people are open to doing whatever they can to help and support us and I’m very grateful,” she said. “I would like to emphasize that my children have started to smile again, it gave me some peace. Slowly I’m getting away from the stress but my mind and thoughts are still (in Ukraine).”

She left everything, she said, her home, property and friends and relatives who are still trying to make it out “of that hell.”

Eleni is currently adjusting to Canada and said it's “a totally different world.”

Stand with Ukraine volunteers hold a barbeque in Waterfront Park Saturday, April 16.
Stand with Ukraine volunteers hold a barbeque in Waterfront Park Saturday, April 16.

Kelowna Stands with Ukraine, a volunteer group that started from Facebook, has been supplying military equipment and medical supplies to Ukraine since the beginning of the war. It's now one of many volunteer groups that have offered to help refugees. The barbeque was a way to support the refugees and to thank volunteers, said organizer Denys Storozhuk. A rally was also held in support of Ukraine Saturday afternoon and another larger event is planned in May.

Kelowna resident Nina Typusiak is hosting a refugee family who arrived last week in her home. The family of three, a mother and two children, are her distant relatives, she said.

“I was listening to my heart and when my nephew contacted me on Facebook and said ‘please will you help save my family,’ I couldn’t say no,” she said. “It was a six-week process of my family getting them here. When they fled Ukraine they didn’t have any documents.”

The mother has a work permit and the children will be attending school but they don’t have any government support, she said.

READ MORE: A girl and her hamster: Half of Ukraine's children flee war

“My husband and I are hard workers but… it will bring us to a point of financial distress as well so we’re not in a position that they’ll be holding them for the three years that they have a visa,” she said.

The family is staying in a bedroom in Typusiak’s townhouse but were staying in Prague beforehand with 12 other people to one room, so the situation is better here, she said.

The volunteer organizations in Kelowna have been incredibly helpful with donations of gas, food and clothing, she said.

A Kelowna woman who owns a job placement agency is also helping Ukrainian refugees settle in the city.

Tanja Krcmar has been helping them through her job placement agency JobOp Employment and has already helped a family of three find a home in Kelowna. She’s also helping the Ukrainian woman find a job when she’s ready.

“With my business, I have housing available for people that I bring from out of town because it’s really hard to find workers in town… so I have a couple of apartments,” Krcmar said, adding it’s been difficult to find workers from out of town so she thought she’d offer the housing to Ukrainian families.

She has one-bedrooms available, furnished or unfurnished, for $600 a month, across from Gyro Beach for those ages 12 and older. Four bedrooms are also available in her house, although she noted the refugees may want their own space. She has also been helping connect the refugees with available housing in the city, she said.

Her late husband was Ukrainian so she wanted to help out, she said. Housekeeping and construction positions are also available through her company, Krcmar said.

“If I can help anybody else, I’m totally able to,” she said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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