Not too long ago, Mariia Malysh never expected her family to leave their home country in what she calls the otherwise safe part of Western Ukraine.
It was a peaceful life in the countryside for them until Malysh had an accident with an unexploded WWII bomb, leaving her without sight in her right eye. That was half a year before the war with Russia began, and she was not out of the hospital until six months after it started.
“My children were rather stressed because of that, their mom was not at home a lot,” said Malysh.
She adds that because of her injuries, the Ukrainian government did not take her husband to go fight in the war. However, Malysh says the government was only going to keep her on disability for a year.
That year was going to be up in March, and her family was getting concerned that her husband would be taken to fight.
“Especially, the children started to be afraid because there was a situation when during one week my husband went to work and each day police stopped the bus, took all the men and gave them a special piece of paper which said ‘you should go to the war’,” she described.
“My children were afraid that their father would suffer like [me], and they didn’t want that and we decided that we needed to go somewhere just to keep their minds safe.”
Before the war started, family friends had come to Canada and had encouraged them to get a visa. As they only know English as a foreign language, they decided to make the move to Canada and arrived in April.
Despite the traumatic turn of events, Malysh says her family is continually shocked by the kindness of Canadians they have met so far.
“Because of the wars in Europe, Ukrainians are rather closed people. We didn’t used to be open to everyone,” said Malysh. “When we came here, we were waiting for something to happen. It couldn’t be that people could be so kind, so open, so nice.”
She adds their host when they arrived, was very generous and helped them get established. They now are renting a home near Seal Bay and she says they thank everyone who has been involved in welcoming them to a new home.
Malysh adds she hopes more family will come to Canada, her mother in particular as she says she lives about 100 km from the front lines of the fighting.
It is stories like these that resonate with Comox Valley Ukrainian Cultural Society volunteer Andy Frost, who says two upcoming fundraisers are being held to aid refugees like Malysh to the North Island.
The “Still Standing with Ukraine” dance concert series will run on two dates in September, one at the Sid Williams Theatre on the 21 and another at the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River on the 23. It will feature performances form the Junior Tryzub Ukrainian Dance Troupe from Calgary and the Ukraine Nightingale Project.
Frost says it is based on similar sold-out fundraisers done in the Okanagan in February. All the proceeds will go to assist Ukrainian families with food security, emergencies and language training to help the new residents adapt to their new homes.
“We realized that the concerts that we produced there would be very applicable and suitable to help the Comox Valley Ukrainian Cultural Society do the same things on the North Island,” said Frost. “They have a new mission now to respond to the 186 Ukrainians who have come to the North Island.”
He adds many more Ukrainians are expected to come to the country, but many of the challenges remain such as housing to those coming to Canada. The issue is ongoing, and Frost says that despite the numerous new conflicts, natural disasters and other events in the news, the magnitude of the situation in Ukraine doesn’t compare.
“It’s hard in our current environment of short soundbite, short news cycle, to really understand the magnitude of what’s happening in Ukraine,” said Frost.
“When I look at the number of people who have had to leave their homes in Ukraine, that’s like a third of the population in Canada or everybody in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba packing two suitcases and heading across the border and into the United States.”
He adds the extreme damage to property and having to deal with the aftermath of the war presents a huge uphill struggle for the country and its citizens.
With this in mind, he thanks all the local businesses who have become sponsors and others willing to help out in the crisis.
A link to more information about the performances and tickets can be found here.