This is the fifth in a weekly, six-part series called What It Takes that tells the personal stories of new Canadians and their journeys to Canada. In this story, Global News intern Fadzaiishe Ziramba introduces us to Oksana Taran and tells us what it took for her to come to Canada from Ukraine. Links to all six parts of the series are available at the bottom of this story.
Some immigrants never quite feel at home in their countries of origin. Oksana Taran had a suspicion she would leave Ukraine to journey elsewhere early on. When weighing her options, Canada struck a chord.
Taran, 42, was born in what was still the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Taran grew up in a small city in Ukraine bordering the sea. Her memories are filled with the joy of schooling and time spent with schoolmates.
Although she describes her childhood as “happy,” when the USSR fell and was divided into several countries, political and economic turmoil followed.
“It was not safe to live there,” Taran said. “There was a lot of crime on the streets. People were so desperate. Just lots of people lost their jobs. Sometimes we didn’t have enough food to eat.”
In her early adult years, Taran, who had earned a master’s degree in economic science, began to assess the economic situation in Ukraine. She was troubled by what she perceived to be a continual downward spiral.
Taran said she always thought, in the back of her mind, that someday she would leave Ukraine and move to another country.
“When I was married and had a child, I thought, ‘100 per cent, I have to find another country to live for my family and for my future.'”
Canada, meanwhile, is looking for immigrants. Immigration already makes up 80 per cent of Canada’s population growth, and with an aging population and the country’s birthrate in decline, that number is expected to grow to 90 per cent by mid-century.
After spending 36 years in Ukraine, and enduring a year and a half of processing immigration papers, Taran and her family moved to Canada.
She recalls feeling elated as she prepared for the journey in 2013. Taran and her husband did not own a house or car in Ukraine. Packing was relatively easy. They sold some small items and donated the rest to relatives.
“All our thoughts were already in Canada,” Taran said.
When she arrived in Winnipeg, she was struck by the smiles that strangers gave her. It was far from Ukrainian culture to smile at a stranger.
“Everyone was eager to help us.”
For the first few weeks, Taran marched through the streets of Winnipeg like a tourist. She captured photographs of buildings and anything of interest she saw. She was mesmerized by the grandeur of Canada.
Taran recalls experiencing some fear during her first few months in Canada. She travelled to Canada through the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program, which required her family to bring more than $20,000 to Canada to cover their initial expenses. She feared, however, that she and her husband would struggle to find jobs in Canada.
Their native language was Russian. She learned and practised English each day to adjust.
Job hunting proved to be drastically different in Canada when pitted against the process in Ukraine. In Ukraine, Taran was not required to provide a job reference when applying for work. She encountered challenges finding references to list when applying for work in Canada. For a few months, she volunteered in order to gain experience before landing her first job.
WATCH: (Oct. 20, 2016) Canada needs thousands more skilled immigrants to boost economy, advisers say
Taran and her family have been living in Canada for six years now. She is now on her fifth job, as an administrative assistant. To find an ideal home country, Taran sacrificed access to her family in Ukraine, and spent a great deal of time saving up the money they needed for their travel requirements.
She believes it was well worth it to make Canada home.
Taran’s second child was born in Canada. She now owns her dream house and hopes to move up in the company she works for.
She is optimistic about her children’s futures.
Last summer her family did a two-week tour of Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. In the future, Taran hopes to travel abroad.
“In Canada, we do not have dreams. We have plans,” Taran said.
“Of course, dreams sound unachievable, but with plans, if you like something here, you just do something for it and you get it.”
WHAT IT TAKES, Part 1: An immigrant’s journey from Zimbabwe to Canada
WHAT IT TAKES, Part 2: From Nigeria to here — How Esther Adeagbo made Canada her home
WHAT IT TAKES, Part 3: Gladys Colarina had to wait 13 years before she could join her mother in Canada
WHAT IT TAKES, Part 4: How Nothabo Ncube came to Canada to realize her dream of becoming a doctor
WHAT IT TAKES, Part 5: Political turmoil drove Oksana Taran to leave Ukraine and make Canada home
WHAT IT TAKES, Part 6: Sara Eftekhar’s family spent 8 years planning their move from Iran