With the war raging on in Ukraine, Oksana Konoplia was faced with a heartbreaking decision. She left her husband and separated her daughter from her dad Max to find safety in Canada,
“It was a hard decision because I never dreamed of leaving my country,” Oksana said. “My husband just said to me, ‘You should go because of the child.”
In June, Oksana and nine-year-old Dasha arrived in Calgary. They’ve been staying with a host family since.
“I like to be here right now. I feel safety,” Oksana said. “It was a hard six months without my husband and without parents, with low English. It was hard but this amazing family gave me so much opportunity to live in a normal space.”
Oksana now has a job as a hairstylist and Dasha is enrolled at a southwest Calgary school. Oksana said her English has improved greatly since she arrived. Both she and her daughter are comfortable in English conversation and were settling in with their new life in Calgary. But it wasn’t until December 6 that the family felt like they truly belonged.
That’s when an early Christmas gift arrived at the Calgary airport — Oksana’s husband Max who had finally obtained a Canadian visa.
However, the joy of the reunion has been curtailed by devastation back home in their city of Kryvyi Rih.
On Saturday, emergency crews pulled the body of a toddler from an apartment building that was hit by Russian missiles. Officials said four people were killed in the strike and 13 more were injured.
Oksana’s parent’s home was not damaged but communication is limited. She said she feels helpless because her parents don’t want to leave the only home they’ve ever known.
“I think it’s very scary for them because they don’t speak English and they’ve just lived in one house for their whole lives,” Oksana said. “I can’t do anything, it’s their decision.”
Russia has been pounding the power grid in Ukraine with missiles and drones as part of efforts to leave Ukrainian civilians and soldiers in the dark and cold this winter. And now that he’s in Canada, Max worries for his sister who lives in Dnipro.
“They don’t have electricity or water and heat in the home. They have just kitchen gas,” Max said.
Max and Oksana said they are thankful for the support provided by their Calgary host family, but Wayne Leong says he’s grateful to be able to help.
“It warms my heart to know that we can help some people,” Leong said. “We’re so fortunate in the world we live in here. We take freedom in Canada for granted and all those things, so to have an opportunity to support someone, it’s heartwarming.”
Despite the constant worry about the dangers their family back home is facing, and their own uncertain future here, the Konoplia family knows the value of being safe and together.
“Finally I am calm inside me,” Oksana said. “Because of our different time zones, I could not sleep normal. I’m always taking my phone and reading some texts with Max a lot of times.
“Right now I am just calm and happy. I can sleep normal.”