Ukrainian mother and daughter fled bombs, waited days at border on way to Vancouver

Their landing in Vancouver was bittersweet, as they left behind their husband and father, who is forbidden to leave during the war that Ukraine was plunged into a month ago when Russia invaded.

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When the arrival of travel documents and Russian bombs landed in a Ukrainian family’s life on the same day, they took it as a sign they should step up their intended departure to a new life in Canada.

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By the end of the first day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, “Sofia” and daughter “Natalia” were staying with friends 100 km from their home, on the way to the Polish border.

“On the first day, several bombs were dropped on our village,” the women recalled to Postmedia in a series of chats by email and Zoom.

“From the news, we learned that the war had begun and that the cities of Ukraine had been shelled. We saw destroyed houses and airports. We could never believe that the war had begun.”

They landed safely in Vancouver, their intended new home, on March 6. But their arrival was bittersweet. Sofia’s husband, Natalia’s father, wasn’t allowed to go with them as they had been planning for years.

“Even though the plane tickets were there, you couldn’t be happy,” said Natalia, which is a pseudonym, as is her mother’s name. “We worried about the people we left behind. It felt like a dream. Is it even happening?

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“It’s still scary and terrifying. You’re still worried about your family.”

She misses her father, who has volunteered in the war effort and is delivering medical supplies and doing humanitarian work.

Before the war started, the family had planned to leave operation of their grain farm to relatives and spend the month of March wrapping up last-minute details to prepare for a new life in Vancouver.

The mother and father had lived in Saskatchewan in 2018-19, where he worked on a farm and she did housework and food service at a seniors home. They decided then to make Canada their permanent home.

“We know what a beautiful country it is and what opportunities there are for immigrants,” said Sofia.

They were able to get permanent residence status and were only waiting for Natalia’s visitor visa to arrive.

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“We had planned to move to Canada and were waiting for the visa. We had all the other documents ready,” said Sofia through a Ukrainian translator on a Zoom call as she and Natalia sat in the kitchen of a host family in Metro Vancouver.

It had taken them two days to get to the Polish border, and another two to make it through the lineup at the crossing.

“There were a lot of traffic jams and roads were blocked up,” said Sofia.

“Yes, it was scary,” Natalia said. Even though there was no bombing or shelling nearby, they could still hear the plans overhead and lived in fear of what might happen.

“You have at the back of your mind, you might be under the bombing because you don’t know what to expect,” said Sofia.

Their dog and cat traveling with them were both “unusually quiet,” and even children they encountered along the way were well-behaved and “very quiet,” said Sofia.

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At first, they stayed with a Vancouver woman of Ukrainian descent and her family.

“This wonderful family helped us to adapt,” they said in an email. “They introduced us to many wonderful people, showed us the city, and cooked delicious food for us. We are very grateful.”

They found a suite in a home through a Facebook page where locals offer new arrivals a place to stay. They can live there for up to a month while they look for a permanent home and jobs.

Sofia plans to learn accounting skills, and Natalia intends to go to university to prepare for a career in tourism.

They speak to Sofia’s husband when he can get a good Internet signal to make a video call. He will join them “only when the war will be ended,” said Natalia.

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