Ukrainian family starts new life in Edmonton

Click to play video: 'Ukrainian family seeking safety in Edmonton' Ukrainian family seeking safety in Edmonton
WATCH ABOVE: As the violence in Ukraine continues, more families are seeking safety in Edmonton. Sarah Reid spoke to a family that arrived in Alberta's capital over the weekend – Apr 4, 2022

For Michael Iwuu and his family, their journey to safety has been a month in the making. Days after airstrikes started, he and his wife packed up their two young sons and fled Ukraine.

“The difficult part is driving on the road for two or three days with the kids with us,” Iwuu said.

The family fled Poltava, a city that sits in between Kyiv and Kharkiv. They said although the violence had not started in their city, they didn’t want to wait to find out how long it would take for Russia to invade further.

“We knew it was just a matter of time, and we have two kids,” Iwuu said said.

Before the invasion, Iwuu and his family had planned to move to Canada and had already applied for visas. They arrived in Edmonton at 2 a.m. on April 2 with nothing, and knowing no one. Their host, David Benjestorf, said thankfully another family at the airport gave them somewhere to stay for the night.

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“Then we got a call saying, ‘Can you help?’ And we said, ‘Absolutely,’” Benjestorf said.

Benjestorf, along with a group of friends and family, has made it his mission to help 10 Ukrainian families coming to Edmonton.

“As soon as the tanks crossed the border, we knew we would help,” he said.

Benjestorf said he is repaying a favour done for him. He studied abroad in Russia during the Chechen war. He said it was a dangerous time to be in the country and a number of families worked to keep him safe.

He said having experienced the dangers of war firsthand, he felt compelled to provide a safe haven for those fleeing violence now.

READ MORE: What happened in Bucha, Ukraine? Here’s what you need to know

Benjestorf and his group have offered to cover the cost of housing for the families they are supporting for two to three months, until they are able to pay rent themselves.

They are also helping those families find budget-friendly accommodations, furnished by donations.

“My goal in all of this is to see happy, smiling faces.”

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Since the Iwuu family arrived, Benjestorf has taken them shopping, has made medical appointments for them, helped them get a driver’s licence and Is working on finding Michael a job.

“It’s quite a whirlwind,” said Benjestorf. “You know how to do everything as a Canadian, but you don’t know how to do it for folks who are visitors.”

Michael said he and his family are starting to adjust to their new life. His plan is to go back to school and get a job in computer science. Until then, he said he is focused on finding work and supporting his family.

The Iwuu family said they came to Edmonton after a friend suggested it to them. So far, Michael said they are enjoying the city and have appreciated everyone’s hospitality.

“I just want to say thank you to everyone who has been helpful,” Iwuu said.

“To those who have reached out to help Ukrainian families, thank you, we are very grateful.”

Although it is an emotional time for those fleeing violence in their home country, it is also an emotional welcome for those meeting them at the airport.

“They’re here now, they’re part of your family,” said Benjestorf. “They’re safe and I’m filled with immense pride that we were able to do something to help these folks.”

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Those looking to help Ukrainian families should contact the Ukrainian Canadian Congress or Ukrainian Canadian Social Services.

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