A pair of Edmontonians has been forced to leave their home in Ukraine, as Russian troops continue to line the border of the eastern European nation.
Stefania Kostiuk and her fiancé Johnnie Samycia have long been proud of their Ukrainian heritage, dancing with Edmonton’s Shumka dancers.
They jumped at the opportunity to move to Kyiv in 2020, when Kostiuk received a job offer.
But recently, they’ve watched with trepidation as Russian troops have lined the border with Ukraine and Western nations have increasingly raised concerns about a potential invasion.
The Canadian embassy began warning them and other Canadians that they would have to leave and this month they decided it was time.
“We pretty much didn’t touch anything in our house, so we just packed what we needed and left,” explained Kostiuk.
The pair is now staying with friends in Italy and teaching remotely.
“There’s a lot of, I think, guilt with us leaving — we love our country.”
Still, after speaking with friends still in the country, they believe they left at the right time.
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“Whenever they’re on the metro, they look at what people are looking at on their phones and everyone’s looking at the news and looking up where bomb shelters are,” said Kostiuk.
Alberta is home to a large Ukrainian community, which is offering help in any way it can. So far, that involves raising education about what is happening in eastern Europe.
“I think that it’s important that people in Alberta understand that this issue is much bigger than Ukraine,” Jars Balan, the former director of the Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies, told Global News.
“The stability of Europe, the international order that was established at the end of the Second World War — all of these are under threat by Russia’s actions.”
The community is also gathering items and funds so they can provide humanitarian aid if need be, including if a refugee crisis occurs.
Kostiuk and Samycia are trying to help too, even from Italy.
“We’ve offered our apartment or flat to to our close friend. And if if things do go bad, then hopefully that’s going to be a place for four people to go to to have a hot shower or shower,” explained Samycia.
“We stocked up on a lot of rice and canned foods as well, just in case,” added Kostiuk.
The couple is hoping to return to Ukraine in the spring and stay for the foreseeable future.
On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine remains high.
A series of cyberattacks on Tuesday knocked the websites of the Ukrainian army, the defense ministry and major banks offline, Ukrainian authorities said.
Joly said cyberattacks undermined earlier optimism that the Kremlin might be drawing down its military forces.
Joly says Canada and its NATO allies want to see actual proof that Russia has reduced its 130,000-strong troop deployment along Ukraine’s borders.
Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he didn’t want a war but then a series of cyberattacks hit Ukrainian government departments.
Russia wants guarantees that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO.
— With files from The Canadian Press