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‘I was just trying to save my life:’ Ukranian relocates to Fredericton

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick woman helping Ukrainians resettle' New Brunswick woman helping Ukrainians resettle
WATCH: A New Brunswick woman is helping Ukrainians fleeing the war to settle in Atlantic Canada. Nathalie Sturgeon reports. – Apr 18, 2022

Three weeks ago Julie Smith and Tetiana Kostenko didn’t know each other.

But now, Smith is helping Kostenko relocate to Fredericton, thousands of kilometers away from her home in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

“I was scared,” Kostenko said. “It’s not about feeling, it’s about tragedy. I was running … I was running under the bombing so I cannot explain my feelings, I was just trying to save my life.”

Read more: At least 7 dead in Lviv following Russian missile strike, Ukrainian officials say

Smith was already helping another friend – a translator for her in Ukraine while she was there working on elections – when she connected with Kostenko on Facebook. They met for coffee in Warsaw, Poland.

Kostenko had already heard of the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAMT) and she applied on March 18, just 10 days after fleeing war-torn Kharkiv.

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“I only knew the direction,” she said “I didn’t know what country but just far from Kharkiv city.”

Kostenko said even Warsaw was too close to Russia for any sort of comfort.

Click to play video: 'Canadian military members leave for mission to Poland to help Ukrainians' Canadian military members leave for mission to Poland to help Ukrainians
Canadian military members leave for mission to Poland to help Ukrainians – Apr 15, 2022

Smith had previously raised $6,000 for another friend who is waiting for their visa, and decided to share a GoFundMe for Kostenko to raise funds for a flight to New Brunswick.

In just a few hours, the $700 flight was paid for.

“I posted on GoFundMe because we had such success for Ulia, and in 12 hours we had money to buy her ticket,” Smith said. “So, she is here with me in Romania because I had to do work here so we’re going to Dublin on Friday and Friday night, late, late, late, or very early Saturday morning because we’re supposed to get in at 11:59 p.m., we’ll be in Fredericton.”

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Read more: If Russia’s atrocities are genocide, world leaders have a duty to act. Will they?

Kostenko was surprised by the response to the GoFundMe.

“I was very surprised,” she said. “Because it’s a lot of money. For me, it’s a huge amount of money. I didn’t expect it to (be) so fast, of course. I feel very grateful and I was to thank everybody, every people, every person, who has given me this money to buy a ticket to (go to) Fredericton, to a new continent, to a new country.”

“Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart,” Kostenko said.

Kostenko and Smith both fly to Dublin, Ireland before a flight to Fredericton Friday.

The plan is for Kostenko to get settled first in Smith’s home and then to look for jobs – which she has already started doing.

Kostenko has extensive experience being a civil servant in Ukraine – and has actually worked closely in the areas of immigration and refugees. She has high hopes to find something that fits her expertise in New Brunswick.

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