With no choice but to flee, Ukrainain refugees find stability in Saskatchewan

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With no choice but to flee, Ukrainain refugees find stability in Saskatchewan
Former residents of Kyiv, Ukraine have arrived in Regina after fleeing the war-torn country – May 11, 2022

For Ukrainian siblings Viktoria & Kostya Mazurak, February 24th, 2022 will always be the day their lives were turned upside down.

Residents of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, the pair lived with their mother Olha and father Vitaliy.

19-year-old Viktoria was attending university and taking law classes. She loved meeting up with friends and exploring her beautiful hometown.

That all changed when she woke up to a phone call from a close friend who proceeded to give her the worst news of her life.

“She told me to wake up my relatives and run away because Kyiv is getting bombed,” said the young teen through a translator.

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It was February 24th, in the early morning hours Vladimir Putin and the Russian army began their attack on Ukraine.

“When we opened the window we heard the bombs and very scary sounds. We didn’t have a choice we packed everything up and we left for the west side of Ukraine where our grandparents live,” said Viktoria.

The Mazurak family quickly packed their lives into their car and headed west.

Vitaliy, Olha, Viktoria and Kostya Mazurak in Kyiv, Ukraine. Viktoria Mazurak

The drive to Olha’s parents house in Kolomyya usually takes around 8 hours, this time it took 2 days. For 15 year old Kostya the reality of the situation is still difficult to grasp.

“I had major plans for what I wanted to do in the future and everything got ruined in one moment. I never wish anyone the same as what happened to me,” said the boy through a translator.

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After a few days in Kolomyya it was deemed too unsafe so Olha and her two kids made their way to Poland. Olha’s parents and her husband Vitaliy remained in Ukraine. Vitaliy a carpenter joined territory forces in the region, tasked with protecting its people.

A question for Olha about her husband left behind is too much to bear and she succumbs to tears.

While in Poland the three Mazuraks were able to find an apartment. They say Poland is an amazing country with incredible people who dropped everything to help them.

Viktoria Mazurak (right) with a friend at an anti war rally in Warsaw, Poland. Viktoria Mazurak

With his family in Poland, Vitaliy reached out to a friend who had immigrated to Canada 6 years prior.

That is where Svitlana Kenyuk and her family come into the picture. The Kenyuks left Ukraine for a new life in Canada and to provide their two children with a better future. Settling down in Regina, Svitlana said it was incredibly hard to watch from afar her home country being attacked.

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“We were sitting here feeling so helpless, we didn’t know what to do,” said Svitlana.

What they did was bring Regina’s large Ukrainian community together to fundraise and deliver humanitarian aid to their war torn homeland. To date, 10 tonnes of aid have been sent from Regina. When Svitlana got a call from Vitaliy Mazurak asking for help getting his family to Canada, she opened her doors.

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Living in the Greens neighbourhood with her family of four, Svitlana said it was an easy decision to bring the three Mazuraks into their home.

“We decided they are our people no matter what. If we know them well or not really, we have to help them because they are all our people, they are all Ukrainians,” said Svitlana.

During their month in Poland the Mazuraks were able to secure their visas and all necessary paperwork to head for Canada. In early April, Ohla, Viktoria and Kostya landed in Regina to a warm welcome from Svitlana and her family.

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“I was looking at the very big Ukrainian community we have here and how they help and support us as much as they can. I was also surprised by the amount of snow and how cold it was in the middle of April,” said Kostya.

Svitlana says she is aware of around 30 Ukrainian refugee families in Regina.

Host and refugee families gather every Monday at the Ukrainian National Federation Hall. Pinching perogies and making cabbage rolls to go towards fundraising efforts.

“Just the feeling of how welcomed we were here, we felt it from the very first day, it’s incredible, it’s hard to explain,” said Olha.

Both Kostya and Viktoria have landed jobs at a local Shoppers Drug Mart.

They say it’s hard with the time difference but they try to Facetime with their dad at least once a day.

“I miss my friends. I miss my grandparents and of course I miss my dad,” said Viktoria.

Viktoria with her father Vitaliy. Viktoria Mazurak

Even though they have been enamoured with Canadian hospitality Olha says her family still has their sights set on returning to Ukraine as soon as possible.

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“We are still missing a major part of our life. Our home, our parents and of course my husband.”

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