One year on, Ukrainians in Canada reflect on Russia’s war: ‘You feel like a traitor’

A Ukrainian flag flies above a field of sunflowers.
Click to play video: '‘Ukraine is alive’: World marks 1 year since Russian invasion'
‘Ukraine is alive’: World marks 1 year since Russian invasion

The day Russia began its illegal invasion of Ukraine, 19-year-old international relations student Andrian Makhnachov was in his apartment in Kyiv, fast asleep. It was February the 24th.

He was awakened by a phone call from his school friend in the early hours of the morning.

“Look through your window,” his friend said.

“The war has started.”

It’s been a year since and while Makhnachov is now living in Canada, he says he struggles with guilt.

He moved in with his brother, a resident of Regina, Saskatchewan in May 2022, while his father stayed behind in Ukraine to aid with “territorial defence,” wherein Ukrainians work 24 hours in rotating shifts across all districts, set up roadblocks and protect the areas they live in.

“They check cars, patrol the territory of the city, make sure that nothing strange happens,” Makhnachov told Global News.

“When I arrived (in) Canada, everything was so strange to me – so stressful. I was really depressed,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Ukrainians in B.C. one year after invasion'
Ukrainians in B.C. one year after invasion

While Makhnachov is able to feel at home sometimes, living in Canada has also left him with a sense of guilt.


“I was expecting the situation in Ukraine would (get) better… but it’s really worse and worse every day,” he said. “I feel like I can’t be happy while what’s happening in Ukraine.”

Andrian Makhnachov, who moved to Canada from Kyiv in May 2022, on the phone with his friends in Ukraine. Provided by Andrian Makhnachov

Makhnachov hopes he will one day be able to return to his home country – but as the war continues, he’s unsure how soon that could happen.

“It will be a year soon… and I still feel like it was yesterday,” he said. “In Canada, I don’t know what I’ll do tomorrow.”

These days, Makhnachov spends his time in Regina posting about his experiences on TikTok. By documenting his take on Canada’s poutine, Nanaimo bars, ketchup chips and even the job market, Makhnachov has garnered over 230,000 followers on the platform.


write if you ever tried it? Where u from? #canadafun #makhnachov #saskatchewan #vancouver #toronto #regina #calgary #challenge #canadawinter #hockey #canada_life🇨🇦 @Andrian Makhnachov

♬ Che La Luna – Louis Prima

After Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the first of what would go on to become successive rounds of sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin and members of his top staff, along with supporters and commercial entities.

In March 2022, the Canadian government opened up a program with the potential to welcome millions of Ukrainians fleeing the war.

The program is designed to allow unlimited numbers of approved Ukrainians into Canada for three years while they decide their next steps. The government also offered eligibility to family members of Ukrainian nationals, regardless of their own nationality.

Around that same time, the Russian army began to surround Mariupol. And, it was then that 32-year-old Iryna Kuznetsova lost contact with her parents.

'The war is not over'

Born in Mariupol, Kuznetsova has been residing in Vancouver, British Columbia for over nine years, while most of her family still lives in Ukraine.

She was finally able to get in touch with her mother on March 24 after nearly a month only to learn that her father had passed away the day before from a stroke — on his 65th birthday.

“I lost contact with them on March 1. That was the last day I spoke to my dad, and I don’t remember what I said,” Kuznetsova told Global News.

“She (her mother) said she was begging (Russian) soldiers who were there with guns for medical help, and they said no,” said Kuznetsova.

With the help of a neighbour, Kuznetsova’s mother, who was fighting terminal cancer, was able to dig a grave for her husband of 47 years to be laid to rest.

On May 19, 2022, Kuznetsova was able to bring her mother to Vancouver with help from the Canadian embassy.

“My mom did have a very short window of time when she was able to fly. It’s a very long flight and she needed to fly with a doctor,” Kuznetsova said.

“The Canadian embassy helped greatly and sped up her visa. (Embassy staff) made sure we didn’t have any problems crossing the borders,” she said.

Kuznetsova’s mother spent two weeks in the Vancouver General Hospital before she was brought home but succumbed to cancer on July 10, 2022.

“I was not able to save my mom because it was too late for that but I was able to bring her here. She saw me. She saw my friends,” Kuznetsova said. “My mom was very grateful for everyone’s support and I was very privileged to get her here, to show her the quiet life and say goodbye to her.”

“But I don’t have parents anymore. You close your eyes for a second and you think that it’s just a horrible dream, but it’s reality.”

Iryna Kuznetsova and her mother. Provided by Iryna Kuznetsova

Reflecting on the war hitting one year, Kuznetsova said it’s been “surreal” so far.

“It feels like you’re watching your family being murdered online every day,” she said. “It’s like two parallel universes. You look around and everything is so normal, but you’re constantly glued to your phone to see what’s happening, reading about what’s being bombed.”

Her group chat with classmates used for catching up has turned into messages of terror about bombings and the losses of loved ones.

“We were counting days. None of us thought it would last this long,” she said of their original expectations for the invasion.

“The war is not over. Please do not look away. It’s real people. They’re hurting and they’re dying, and their lives are being broken into pieces.”

She has a simple message for Canadians: “We all don’t need to change the world. Be kind. Stop spreading misinformation. Help to the best of your abilities.”

'People are still dying'

Semion Kremeniuk, 36, still has the boarding passes he, his four children and wife used when moving to Canada from Ukraine.

“I’m going to be showing them to my grandkids,” he told Global News.

The family moved to the Northumberland area of Ontario with their dog on April 23, 2022.

Semion Kremeniuk and his family. Provided by Semion Kremeniuk

“We only had a few hours to pack and when we were leaving, we thought that we were going to go back in a week or two,” said Kremeniuk, who spent his whole life in Kyiv before the move.

“We ended up never going back.”

In Canada, the first thing Kremeniuk does when he wakes up in the morning is check to news to see what’s happening in Ukraine.

“It influences your day. It becomes the only thing you’re discussing. If you read that there’s been another shooting or more rockets headed toward a residential building, it means that day is ruined,” he said.

“The only thing you can do is just wait for the day to be over and (hope that) the next day will be better. The worst part of being here is that you feel like a traitor. You feel like you left your country and your people.”

For Kremeniuk, although the one-year mark of the war will be a day he “counts his blessings” in Canada, it will also be a “a very, very sad day to reflect.”

“It’s something to reflect on because one day you’re living your life at home and then in one year, not only you, but your whole family is very far building a new life,” he said.

Making the decision to move back to Ukraine when the war ends will be difficult for Kremeniuk and his family, he says.

“It was really stressful for the kids to change everything, to leave everything behind. To go back anywhere would mean probably the same thing. They have friends here. They’re learning the language so quickly,” said Kremeniuk.

But as Russia’s war drags on, Kremeniuk is urging the world not to forget.


“It’s not getting any better in Ukraine. The war is still going on. People are still dying,” he said.