After fleeing the besieged port city of Mariupol, a Ukrainian woman and her two 13-year-old sons have arrived safely in Vancouver.
Victoria Serheiienko has reunited with her best friend, Yuliya Cherman, who is also from Mariupol and who lives in Maple Ridge, for the first time in more than three years, arriving at Vancouver International Airport late Tuesday night.
“It’s emotional, so emotional, and we will be crying together,” said Cherman, holding her friend in a tearful hug in the arrivals terminal. “The best thing is, they are alive.”
“I still can’t believe it. For me, it’s like a dream, like a daydream. I am just so happy they made it, and I can help them. This is the start of our new life together.”
Serheiienko and her sons, Daniil and Illia, left their home three weeks ago, escaping by chance through an evacuation route.
They’d spent the previous weeks hiding in the basement of their home, now destroyed, before Ukrainian soldiers begged them to leave.
So they packed up their lives in minutes, carrying only a few changes of clothes and their identification and driving 17 hours to a neighbouring town.
From there, they drove across Ukraine and crossed the border into Warsaw on March 22.
“It was a spontaneous decision, but very hard to find the right moment,” said Serheiienko, who worked as a financial manager before the war.
On Tuesday, the family flew from Warsaw to London, then Toronto, and finally Vancouver.
“I don’t believe that we are here. It’s really difficult for me to realize what we are going to do in the next days,” said Serheiienko. “(I) am lost. It’s hard to explain my feelings.”
Cherman has worked tirelessly over the last month to help bring her friend to Canada.
After Serheiienko and her sons made it to Poland, Cherman helped them buy plane tickets and started to make arrangements for them to join their family in Maple Ridge.
Cherman has started a GoFundMe to help the family get settled.
Serheiienko’s husband, Oleksandr, who is an engineer, stayed behind in Kyiv to defend the country.
“(I) don’t think about this much because I need to (keep) moving,” Serheiienko said.
“It was the main thought to escape and to find safe place for the kids. Only now, I realize that my parents and family are still in Ukraine.”
Mariupol has been one of the cities hardest hit by the Russian invasion, and Serheiienko said most of it has been obliterated.
Ukrainian authorities estimate about 100,000 people remain trapped, with no clear way out.
“I want people to know the truth, that it’s Russian soldiers that destroyed Ukrainians,” she said, adding she wants everyone to get the chance to leave safely.
“It’s a nightmare. Today, we still have no idea about our friends, coworkers, neighbours. So many people are missing and we have no information on them.”
She and her husband will help find a school for Daniil and Illia, a job for Serheiienko, and, when they’re ready, a new home of their own.
“We can solve any problem now. I think nothing is impossible anymore,” Cherman said. “If they can escape Mariupol and Ukraine, and survive? We can do impossible things.”
For right now, the two women will just enjoy each other’s company.
“A glass of wine first, then I will cook borsht for them, then sleeping and resting. They need a lot of rest,” Cherman said.
“Day-to-day challenges are hard. But when you have friends and family? It’s perfect. It’s almost heaven.”