‘It’s not easy’: Ukrainians mark Orthodox Christmas in southern Alberta

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‘It’s not easy’: Ukrainians mark Orthodox Christmas in southern Alberta
WATCH ABOVE: Many Ukrainians forced to flee their war-torn homeland will be celebrating their first Orthodox Christmas in Canada this year. That includes families in Lethbridge still adjusting to life in southern Alberta after fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Erik Bay has more. – Jan 6, 2023

Alla Panchenko’s family is among the roughly 200 Ukrainians now living in Lethbridge after escaping their home country following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“It’s not easy. It’s hard to be without our families,” Panchenko said through an interpreter.

“We left everything that we have. Our parents, relatives, brothers and sisters.”

Veronika Mykolaichuk also left Ukraine last year.

Read more: Somber Orthodox Christmas for Ukrainian newcomers: ‘They don’t want to suffer anymore’

She came to Lethbridge seven months ago unable to speak English, leaving most of her possessions behind.

Mykolaichuk and Panchenko are some of the roughly 65 Ukrainian evacuees the Rotary Club of Lethbridge (Downtown) is helping settle into the city.

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The group is gathering funds and furniture for the new residents.

“These people gave not just help, they made it like a family,” Mykolaichuk said.

And while the newcomers are grateful for the support they’ve received, they’ve also left an impression on those providing assistance.

Read more: It’s Orthodox Christmas Eve and many in Saskatchewan are celebrating

“You can just see the fear of the unknown coming here, but you can see they’re leaving everything,” said Todd Brown, the Rotary Club’s director for community services.

“When we settled them here, when you’re in the middle of it, it’s emotional, because you really feel like you’re helping people.”

Panchenko is making traditional Ukrainian dishes for the Christmas season.

She and Mykolaichuk have been celebrating the holidays with people they’ve met in Lethbridge, but it’s still a hard time for them and their families.

Read more: Orthodox Christmas is a ‘bittersweet’ season for Ukrainians in Manitoba

“It’s not easy to celebrate Christmas,” Mykolaichuk said. “It’s our first Christmas in Canada. We left our relatives.

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“Every day we know bad news from Ukraine — horrible news — and we understand that we are lucky.”

They say they are thankful for where they’ve come, but still remember what’s been left behind.

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