When the war started in Ukraine Yevhenia Vasylkova and Kristina Hulyanych made a very difficult decision to leave their families.
“At first we were just running from the fear. It felt right but then at some point when you don’t see your family and friends and you’re thinking if this is the right choice or not,” said Vasylkova who is a graphic designer from Kyiv.
She said her sister doesn’t want to leave Ukraine because she has a husband who is not permitted to leave.
“It’s a difficult decision for people to leave because you have a life there and people have careers and families,” Vasylkova said. “It’s difficult to leave, especially knowing you will be so far away from your family.”
Their choice to come to Canada was about safety, economics and acceptance.
“A lot of people lost their jobs. That was one of the bigger things. We wanted to go somewhere where at least one of us has a job,” Vasylkova said. “And also we wanted to find an LGBTQ-friendly country. Canada is one of the most.”
The young couple was careful about looking for a host family. They contacted an LGBTQ+ organization, which approached a settlement centre that reached out to Hillhurst United Church in Calgary — known for its values of inclusivity.
“That’s why we wanted to go through an organization,” Vasylkova said. “Because we were worried that not everybody would be happy to host us as a couple so we wanted to make sure that we find the right people who will be ok with us, and with a dog.”
“It was quite a concern,” added Anne Yates-Laberge, the executive director at Hillhurst United Church. “A lesbian family that came over and a dog. It’s really difficult sometimes when you have people that are on different pages with what they think is a family structure.
“We were approached by the newcomers centre because they knew that Hillhurst values are accepting.”
Long-time church members Lynne and Angelo Dalcin picked up their new Ukrainian guests at the Calgary airport on the May long weekend.
“We watch the news every morning,” said Lynne from her Airdrie home. “I’m a bit of a soft touch and I cried every morning watching the news about Ukraine and when we decided to do this I stopped crying so I thought it was the right thing to do.”
The Airdrie couple’s four adult kids have moved out of the house so they said they had the space.
“This has been an experience of our lifetime to meet these girls and we are so grateful for that,” Lynne said. “They are beautiful souls and we love having them in our home. I believe that they are very, very brave to do this. This is tough.”
Many Ukrainians are fleeing to Poland and Hungary but those countries restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ people. In Ukraine, gay couples can’t marry or adopt children.
Russia formally banned same-sex marriage two years ago.
Vasylkova said that while Ukraine still has a long way to go, it was making progress in terms of the acceptance of LGBTQ people.
“I think Canada is one of the most progressive countries in the world regarding LGBTQ rights and Ukraine isn’t the most progressive place,” Vasylkova said. “Now we have pride parades and things like that, so it is changing but Canada is further in this process.”
Both Vasylkova and her partner describe their hosts as “perfect.”
“We are so lucky,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was hoping for but this is the best situation.
“They are very open to our experience and to us being together and they are very nice to our dog.”