Viktoriya Bartlett hasn’t had a full night’s sleep in weeks. The Edmonton woman is constantly checking her phone, hoping for updates on her 75-year-old aunt Luda Nechaeva who is in the process of fleeing Ukraine.
“You feel helpless, you can’t help really,” Bartlett said, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues.
Nechaeva has had a difficult journey. She had to spend a little bit of time in a shelter in Kyiv. She brought two bags with her, and soon made her way to the train headed to Lviv.
“There was so many people that she was unable to reach her water or her food (because) her bags were… by her feet,” Bartlett said.
Her aunt was on the train for nine hours. When she arrived in Lviv, she stayed at an apartment Bartlett owns in that city. It also became unsafe, and Nechaeva started to make her journey to Poland.
When Bartlett posted about the situation on social media, a follower offered to help. A stranger picked up Nechaeva in Warsaw.
“It’s a huge relief that she is in safety, but there is another set of worries, like how long is the application (for the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel program) going to take?” Bartlett said.
“She never travelled. She never left Ukraine. She doesn’t know any other languages but Russian or Ukrainian… That’s a struggle.”
With an expired passport, Nechaeva is relying on the Canadian government’s help to make her way to Edmonton.
When concern was mounting about a potential invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Canada began preparing for an influx of applicants and has since streamlined the process, allowing more than 7,400 Ukrainian nationals to come.
The federal government is taking another step. It is expected by Thursday that most visa requirements will also be lifted. Only a background check and security screening will be required to enter the country.
“Right now, we feel we have enough time to proceed with application to bring her to Canada,” Bartlett said.
“I’m very hopeful that we can bring her here to Canada as soon as possible.”
Slava Francis has similar hopes. The Edmonton woman is not waiting on the government’s further expected changes to start the process to get five family members to Canada, including her 80-year-old grandmother and a two-year-old cousin.
“The path most Ukrainians are taking right now out of the country, it’s tasking, it’s difficult, it’s unpredictable. They don’t have a plan, it’s just minute by minute,” Francis said.
When the Russian invasion started, it came as a huge shock to many. Francis said she has heard that the day before the invasion began, children were going to school, people were going to work and things were normal in Ukraine. Then the family was forced to flee.
“It took them six hours to get across a bridge in Kyiv to get to the train station,” Francis said. “The train journey is normally eight hours, but it took 16.”
The family was able to stay together as they made the difficult journey. Now they are in Poland and going through the application process to come to Canada.
Francis acknowledged that the federal government is making it much easier for people to come to Canada.
“All of our approvals have been done within 24 hours,” she said. “I know they are fast-tracking Ukrainians through the visa application system, so for us, it has been a lot of waiting — it truly has.
“But in terms of a typical visa process, it’s very fast.”
Francis said the family is finding comfort in the kindness of others — in some cases strangers — who are helping Ukrainians get to safety.
“This truly is probably one of the most hopeful things that the world is rallying around Ukraine with, so it’s individual people offering help, offering their houses, bringing food, bringing things — strollers left at the Warsaw train station, clothing, supplies for kids, for elderly people.”
Francis set up a GoFundMe page to help cover travel costs to get all five family members to Canada together. She said she was blown away by that support.
The GoFundMe age raised more than $27,000 in 10 days.