Olga Renneberg’s mother arrived in Canada this week with nothing but a backpack with her essentials and the clothes she was wearing.
“I suggested to her to pack the most important things — money, important documents and her necessities — because a suitcase would slow her down,” said Renneberg, who lives outside Edmonton.
“You never know where you could end up. Will you need to run quickly to get the bus or train?”
Her mother, 57-year-old Liudmyla Volovyk, arrived in Edmonton late Monday after leaving her home in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Friday.
Renneberg said her mother took a train from Kyiv to the western city of Lviv, then went by bus to the Polish border, travelling more than 24 hours straight. A volunteer in Poland took her in for the night.
Volovyk, who still has a valid visa to enter Canada, then flew to Zurich and Montreal before landing in Edmonton to be reunited with her daughter after more than three years.
“The most important thing is she is here right now and I’m relieved,” Renneberg said.
The 36-year-old said seeing her country ravaged by war has been devastating and she fears for friends and relatives still there. She said she hopes NATO will declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine to limit attacks from Russian warplanes.
“People wouldn’t be fleeing in these numbers if our sky would be closed and if we know we wouldn’t be hit randomly by jets,” said Renneberg, adding her mother had spent each night in Kyiv in a shelter since the war with Russia intensified last month.
Renneberg said many people in the Ukrainian-Canadian community would welcome Ukrainians fleeing war into their homes, but it’s a matter of them being able to reach Canada.
A Ukrainian food company in central Alberta has said it will employ and support some Ukrainian refugees.
Baba Jenny’s Ukrainian Foods, based in Mannville, has a goal of welcoming 15 Ukrainian refugees in the coming year, said Garry Pulyk, director of marketing.
The family-run business will employ the refugees, house them and cover any rental costs for the first few years.
“They could help our company grow and at the same time we can give them a better way of life,” he said.
In Toronto, 28-year-old Svitlana Nechyporenko and her husband are among many Ukrainian Canadians working to bring relatives to Canada.
Nechyporenko said her younger sister and her sister’s partner recently escaped to Berlin and are waiting for her mother, who is in Ukraine, to join them. From there, they plan to head to Toronto to stay with Nechyporenko.
“My sister already has a visa from Canada, but her girlfriend just applied,” Nechyporenko said. “I will help (my mother) apply for her visa to enter Canada and stay with me until it’s safe to fly back to Ukraine.”
Nechyporenko said her mother left her father in Kyiv and boarded a train to Lviv earlier in the week.
“My mother is actually recovering from surgery she had two weeks ago, and the train was so packed. She ended up sitting on her suitcase, by the entrance into the train, the entire way to Lviv.”
Their arrival in Canada depends on how long the visa application will take.
“The minute they receive (my mother’s) passport with the visa sticker in it, we will book their flight to Toronto,” Nechyporenko said.
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Karolina Rabianska said she is willing to help Ukrainian refugees in any possible way should some of them arrive in Georgetown, Ont.
Rabianska, who was born in Poland and immigrated to Canada as a child with her parents, said her family might not have room to host Ukrainians at their townhouse, but she is willing to help in any possible way.
The 26-year-old said she has started a GoFundMe page and raised about $500 to send to her relatives in Poland to host Ukrainian families at their homes.
She said her relatives run a ski chalet in southern Poland and some Ukrainian families are expected to arrive there soon.
“It’s just important to remember that even though it’s far away, that it’s important to help each other and that is just regular people that are suffering the consequences because of one man or one government’s greed,” she said.
“Today is Ukraine, but it could be Poland next, just as easily.”