Warning – the following story includes descriptions of life in a war-torn country, which may be traumatizing or disturbing to readers.
Oleksander and his family were quite happy in their home in Mokrets, a village in the Brovarskyi raion (district), Kyiv region but their quiet, contented life was shattered when Russia invaded Ukraine and overturned so many peoples’ lives.
“On March 5th (2022) at 5 o’clock in the morning, Russian invaders came into the village. Our village had been a line of defense. When they came in, they took all the empty houses of the villagers who had left and put their tanks in the yards.”
Living under occupation was difficult for all the villagers who had not evacuated. The Russian troops had raided all the houses and stores. Those who continued living in Mokrets had to survive on what food stores they already had in their homes.
Along with the legitimate threats that they would be killed, raids on their homes looking for made up propaganda materials, destroying their cars, and stealing phones so communication would be impossible, the villagers were also ordered to stay in their houses by the Russians. A month later, when the Russians were pushed back from the village, they found the bodies of six men in basements who had been tortured and killed.
What stands out the most to Oleksandr about that time was the constant noise of artillery fire. “All day and night, boom boom boom. We would hide in our cellar.” Villagers were killed and homes reduced to rubble during the relentless barrage.
Fleeing Their Home
It was during a cease fire that Oleksander, his wife, and other villagers were able to escape the front line and flee for their lives. Volunteers delivering goods to Lviv took them in a truck, avoiding the main roads and the worst of the war zones. Taking turns, two volunteers drove non-stop to get to a safe zone. From there, more volunteers took Oleksander and his wife to Shehyni, a pre-border area next to Poland.
Leaving Ukraine for the first time in his life, and with no plan other than to get to safety, Oleksander found himself in Warsaw, Poland. It was here that he and his wife were reunited with their daughter and granddaughter, who thankfully had left before them.
Having relatives in Canada, Oleksander and his family were able to get help with the documentation needed to apply for the special VISA under CUAET. Today, they are staying in his niece’s apartment while she and her family are working abroad. However, they soon will need other accommodations when his niece returns home.
The first thing Oleksander comments on about what it’s like in Canada is the silence. After living with the sounds of war for so long, the silence is something that they needed after the constant stress and fear.
Finding Stability in a New Home
For now, the family is finding a sense of stability. Oleksander’s daughter has found work and his granddaughter attends school while Oleksander’s wife takes care of the home and helps with childcare. They also have a circle of friends they can communicate with and receive support from.
Oleksander, an engineer mechanic, also tries to help where he can. He fixes equipment at the Church that helped them and has recently started a part time job a few days a week so that it doesn’t interfere with his English lessons at the Ukrainian Centre, Holy Eucharist Cathedral.
One of the heartfelt moments comes through when Oleksander recounts learning English with his granddaughter. “She has picture books with the name of the thing in the picture below it. She shows me the books and we learn together.”
Though he’s impressed with Vancouver and the opportunities life in Canada presents, Oleksander and his wife intend to return home once the fighting stops. They are told that their home hasn’t been completely destroyed, and he looks forward to a time when he can return and start rebuilding.
“We are grateful to Canada for what they have done for us. I hope the politicians and governments in the world can make more efforts to stop the war and make peace.”
If you are interested in helping displaced Ukrainians settle into their new communities in BC, please visit