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‘It’s unbelievable’: Ukrainian sisters begin new life in N.S. after fleeing home

Click to play video: 'Twin sisters who fled Ukraine thankful for help in Halifax'
Twin sisters who fled Ukraine thankful for help in Halifax
WATCH: Two Ukrainian refugees say they’re astonished by the support they’ve received since fleeing to Canada from their war-torn country. The twin sisters are about to start their first year of university. Graeme Benjamin reports – Sep 1, 2022

It’s a back-to-school week unlike any other for Mariia and Yuliia Lytvynchuk.

The 18-year-old Ukrainian twins arrived in Nova Scotia three weeks ago after fleeing their war-torn country. Now, they’re on track to begin their post-secondary education at Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

“It’s very different because it’s like we’re not in reality now, it’s like we’re now in a dream,” said Mariia Litvynchuk.

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Since Russia began its invasion on Ukraine, the Lytvynchuk sisters have wanted to find refuge in Canada to continue their studies. Both earned scholarships from their post-secondary institutions.

Mariia is planning to study creative writing, while Yuliia will be learning about visual arts.

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“In Canada, I have a very great opportunity for this,” said Yuliia. “I will have a very great experience.”

Mariia and Yuliia Lytvynchuk arrived in Halifax in August 2022. Courtesy: Heather Jessup

But the help with tuition only goes so far, as the twins still need financial support when it comes to travel expenses, cost of living and their Canadian-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel visas. Neither are eligible for student loans.

That’s why Dalhousie professors Christina Luckyj and Heather Jessup stepped in to help. They started a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds and have secured a donor who will match every dollar raised up to $40,000.

So far, through the crowdfunding campaign and personal donations, they’ve raised $27,000.

“It just makes me want to help more,” said Jessup. “It makes me realize there are so many students that need assistance like this.”

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Click to play video: 'Nova Scotian Returns Home After Humanitarian Work in His Home Country of Ukraine'
Nova Scotian Returns Home After Humanitarian Work in His Home Country of Ukraine

For Luckyj, whose father was a Ukrainian refugee during the Second World War, the Lytvynchuk twins’ story struck a unique chord.

“This is certainly a form of paying back that debt, which I felt very deeply,” said Luckyj. “It’s also about, for me, helping these absolutely brilliant and wonderful young women, who are, in my view, the future of Ukraine.”

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Jessup says other Maritime universities, like Mount Saint Vincent University, have also stepped in to help. She says MSVU provided accommodation during their required 14-day isolation.

The Lytvynchuk sisters say they’ve been overwhelmed by the warm Maritime welcome.

“It’s unbelievable, because the people don’t know us and they gave to us a lot of money,” said Mariia.

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“This is a safe-to-live place. There’s sun, there’s good people, and everyone is kind to us and I think we’re lucky,” said Yuliia.

“We’re not in the war now. We’re in the safety. And I think it’s very great.”

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