When Alex and Julia Perepelytsia left for their honeymoon in Cyprus, they had no idea they’d never be returning home but a day after they flew out, Russia invaded Ukraine.
“Our wedding travel was only one day and then all after it was very nervous for us,” said Alex Perepelytsia.
“Every day we were reading the news, calling our neighbours, our parents afraid for their lives.”
The newlyweds chose not to fly back to Ukraine, instead purchasing a return flight to Poland, where they stayed until learning about the Emergency Travel Visa for Canada.
“We chose to come to Canada because we think that now actually Poland will be the (next) country that would be attacked by Russians because they talk about it a lot,” said Alex.
The couple are among hundreds of Ukrainians who landed in Nova Scotia after fleeing their home country. Some have been brought in on government-chartered flights while others have made their own way over.
Olga Pynda fled Ukraine with her son Vlad, purchasing tickets from Poland to come to Halifax. She says leaving Ukraine was a difficult decision — her husband and parents stayed behind — but she chose to leave to make sure her 13-year-old son could continue his education.
“In Ukraine, it’s impossible now to go to school normally,” said Pynda.
“His school was burned and destroyed.”
Pynda says she has some extended family who live in rural Nova Scotia so she chose to come to this province, but ultimately decided to try and settle in Halifax for the hope of better job prospects.
“I try to find something that matches with my previous experience,” she said.
“I work in marketing, in communications, in advertising.”
After finding a job, the next challenge will be finding housing, but for now, Pynda is grateful to have found a host who’s taken in her and her son.
“It’s a nice place, very warm and welcoming,” she said.
Marilyn Sydney is among the hundreds of Nova Scotians who have taken in Ukrainian families, providing food and shelter, and helping them settle in.
“It was my daughter who first suggested it,” said Sydney, who lives alone.
“It seemed to be a good fit, I’ve always hosted foreign students through St. Mary’s (pre-pandemic).”
Sydney says it’s been nice having Olga and Vlad in her home. They like to play cards together, and she says the two are easy to get along with.
“I love it,” she said.
“(Olga’s) a wonderful cook. I tried borscht for my first time and I enjoyed it.”
No more hosts in HRM
Many Ukrainians and host families have been connected through a volunteer-led Facebook group, Atlantic Canada hosts for Ukrainians.
The group was created by New Brunswick resident Carol Ailes.
“I started it because I couldn’t find anywhere that I could become a host in New Brunswick so I wanted to do something to help.”
The page has grown to more than 11,000 members and has helped hundreds of Ukrainians connect with hosts across Atlantic Canada, but demand has been most popular in urban areas.
“We’ve exhausted our hosts in practically every place with public transportation,” said Ailes, who encourages Ukrainians to consider staying with hosts in more rural areas.
But Halifax remains a popular spot for many Ukrainians who want to stay in a larger city. Without hosts, it means many are left to find accommodations elsewhere, which can be a challenge.
“We know it’s a hard situation with rentals here,” said Alex Perepelytsia.
He and his wife are still looking for long-term accommodation but say they’ve been lucky to find support in the meantime.
“Our first place where we were staying, I found him on CouchSurfing,” said Alex.
The couple sent out a message an hour before boarding a flight to Halifax and received a response when they landed.
“He told us, ‘Yeah, guys of course I can host you, just one moment, I will clean up your room,'” said Alex.
Their host picked them up at the airport and allowed them to stay a few nights.
“It was 11 p.m. (when we arrived), so late but without any problems, he decided to help us.”
After that, the couple rented an Airbnb and then sought help from ISANS and the YMCA. The two organizations helped place them in a Dalhousie residence for five weeks.
“It’s a great room,” said Alex. “So now we have time to look for some rental.”
As they search for a rental, the pair are also looking for jobs, with plans to take English classes at the YMCA in the fall. In Ukraine, Alex was a lawyer and his wife worked in finance but the couple say they’re open to any job opportunities here.
With war raging on in Ukraine, those who have come to Canada remain concerned for their family back home. While some, like Olga and Vlad, are hoping to return when things calm down, others like Alex and Julia are looking to permanently settle in Canada.
Both pairs say they’re overwhelmed by the generosity of Canadians and their willingness to help.
“It’s amazing, such a big country like Canada is so lovely to immigrants,” said Alex.
“We didn’t see the same thing about immigrants in other countries.”