Ukrainian war: a couple fled Russia to find refuge in Canada
Petro Yankovskyi and his family arrived in Canada in mid-August, seeking refuge near Victoria, British Columbia, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
But, unlike most Ukrainian refugees, they were fleeing their homes in Russia. When the invasion of Ukraine began six months ago, Yankovskyis were based in Siberia as medical professionals.
« We were scared because we don’t know when our freedom (would) be over, » Petro told CTV News Vancouver Island on Friday.
Petro’s wife, Olga, was employed as a nurse and Petro as a paramedic. Petro says it was incredibly difficult to know that Russian attacks were taking lives in his home country, but he didn’t hesitate to save Russian lives and do his job.
« I can help them, I see no enemy, » he said. « We are all people… we all have a health condition. »
But, as the war escalated, they feared for their lives and decided it was time to move.
« It was very dangerous, » Olga said. « It was horrible. »
The war in Ukraine prompted thousands of Ukrainians to come to Canada, prompting communities across the country to come together to collect supplies and help their new neighbors settle here.
Since the federal government announced in March that it would open new avenues for Ukrainians to seek refuge in this country, approximately 74,500 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada.
The Yankovskyi family is currently staying at a former resort turned into a refugee shelter by carpenter and businessman Brian Holowaychuk.
Holowaychuk, who is of Ukrainian descent, worked for months to convert the 82-acre property into a free home for displaced Ukrainians. He is already hosting 24 Ukrainians free of charge at the renovated property in east Sooke, near Victoria.
« I can’t imagine being in their place, so when they contacted us – you know they were looking for a place to go – we luckily had space, » he said.
Victoria Grando, the director of the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Victoria, told CTV News Vancouver Island that she is hearing about a growing number of Ukrainians hoping to flee Russia.
« (It’s) increasingly dangerous for Ukrainians working there, » says Grando, noting that the center helps direct Ukrainians hoping to flee Russia to online information about Canada.
But often these websites are not accessible to Ukrainians in Russia due to their strict censorship laws.
The Yankovskyi hope to start fresh and establish themselves in Canada. The couple’s six-year-old daughter, Lisa, starts school next week. Her parents hope to get Canadian degrees in health care and work in their new homeland, saving lives once again.