Forced to flee after the Russian invasion, these architects will help rebuild Ukraine from Toronto

Anastasiia Kalinichenko, an architect from Ukraine, recalls how surreal it was after the war started.

“I was working on a drawing and trying to figure out what was going on,” she recalled, adding that her family could hear bombs from where they lived closer to the Russian border.

« We didn’t know what to do, we just kept working. »

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.

At the time, Kalinichenko was working on designing large houses in mountainous areas from her office in Lviv, but soon it wasn’t safe there either, and she knew she had to escape.

She applied for a Canadian visa and sent dozens of resumes across the country, including Toronto-based WZMH Architects, after learning the firm was hiring Ukrainians. After a conversation with the head of the company, she was integrated into the team.

« I started working right away… I was really inspired. »

Zenon Radewych, principal at WZMH Architects, says he has Ukrainian roots and wanted to help the war-torn country. (CBC/Kirthana Sasitharan)

Kalinichenko is now one of seven Ukrainians who have been hired by the company since mid-May. And part of the team that is now also helping to rebuild the country.

For Zenon Radewych, Principal at WZMH Architects, war has hit close to home. He says both his parents are from Ukraine, as well as his wife.

« Right after the war started, people contacted me asking if there were any opportunities for Ukrainians coming to Canada who have an architectural background to be employed in my company, » he said. he explains.

« Being Ukrainian and wanting to support Ukraine and the war effort, I said yes, and it was sort of on a first-come, first-served basis. »

WZMH’s unique solution

Soon after, Radewych and his team realized that some of the work they were doing in North America also applied to facilitating reconstruction efforts in Ukraine.

Dubbed Speedstac, WZMH’s solution, according to its website, is a precast system made up of precast concrete modules that can be assembled in stacks or rows and inserted into apartment buildings to replace existing units.

Speedstac was originally created to help solve the housing crisis in North America in the context of labor shortages. But the technology could also replace parts of mid-rise and high-rise buildings damaged by fires and missile strikes without the need to completely demolish the buildings.

Radewych says the company has also offered jobs to people in Ukraine to help with Speedstac. But he is adamant that aid is a two-way street.

« We help each other. Yes, we give them jobs, but they help us because there is a shortage of labor and a shortage of architects in the province, so they are actually filling a shortage of personnel that we need. It’s reciprocal, it benefits both, » he said.

Radewych adds that the Ukrainian architects on the team are also excellent visual artists and have an understanding of local standards in the country, which makes working with the country much smoother.

« Most of the rebuilding will start to happen when the war is over. So right now what’s happening is we’re preparing for that, » he said.

« We spend a lot of time and research so that when things kick off there’s a solution in place that they can start implementing immediately. »

Home help

Yuliia Fedorenko, one of the firm’s Ukrainian architects, worked on government projects, including parks and housing in her home. When the war started, she said she hid in toilets and bomb shelters before coming to Canada.

She knew she wanted to help her country and could only do so from a safe place.

Yuliia Fedorenko, architect at WZMH Architects, taps into her network at home to help with projects.
Yuliia Fedorenko, architect at WZMH Architects, taps into her network at home to help with projects. (Radio Canada/Kirthana Sasitharan)

Fedorenko was part of the discussion when the team realized they could offer their solution to the war-torn country.

« It’s been very inspiring. And it also gives the architects there the opportunity to think about something really important: to rebuild, » she said.

« I believe that after the war, Ukraine will rebuild quickly. »

It is also this promise of a better future that motivates Radewych.

« It’s a matter of hope for me, » he said.

« We give them hope, and they give us hope. »


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