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Displaced Ukrainians overwhelmed by Alberta town's generosity

Cochrane now has welcomed almost 80 displaced Ukrainians from their war-ravaged homeland.
Displaced five-year-old Ukrainian Dasha plays with Buddy

On the surface, five-year-old Dasha Borysiuk is much like other little girls her age.

She smiles easily, loves playing with Buddy the Border Collie, and she’s the envy of her new friend next door because of her Princess Jasmine doll.

But there is a latent sadness in her eyes she can’t express in English. She wishes she could see her dad, who is essentially a prisoner in their homeland in Ukraine, as the war there rages on into its fifth month.

Most Ukrainian men ages 18 to 60 have been banned from leaving the country, in anticipation that they may be called to defend their country against Russian invasion.

Dasha, along with her brother Andrew and mother Olha, are living in Cochrane thanks to the generosity of Lisa and Heath Foster, who welcomed them into their West Pointe home in June.

A hematologist back in Ukraine, Olha first needs to improve her English before she can embark on the long process to become accredited in her profession here.

The Borysiuks left their home in Kyiv and arrived in Winnipeg in May. Olha’s husband works in information technology in Volochys’k, in western Ukraine.

Olha talks with him daily and gets her news about the war almost nightly from Ukrainian internet news websites.

At first, Olha said she was watching news from home every day, but after a while, the stress became too much to bear.

“Every day is terrible, every morning is terrible,” she said.

The Associated Press reported in July that Russia was deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure — hospitals, schools, movie theatres, even queues for humanitarian aid.

On July 22, Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement to open ports to shipping grain. Within 24 hours, Russia bombed the port of Odesa.

Thinking about the war and what it’s doing to family and friends became too emotional for Olha. She calls home to family and friends after watching the news to see if everyone’s OK, but said sometimes “it’s all too much.”

So she strives for balance in her life by keeping busy with her kids and improving her English. She takes online classes four days a week.

Dasha is in day care and Andrew will be enrolling in high school in Cochrane in the fall.

The displaced families from Ukraine have formed something of an informal support group in town. In the days leading up to the Wings Over Springbank Airshow on July 23, Olha cautioned fellow displaced Ukrainians to expect to hear some sudden loud jet engines from overhead that might evoke visceral memories.

The Rotary Club of Cochrane will host a meeting at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 15, 114 Fifth Avenue W, from noon to 1 p.m. on Aug. 23, to talk about the surge in the number of Ukrainian families that have chosen Cochrane as their new home. Cochrane now has welcomed almost 80 displaced Ukrainians from their war-ravaged homeland.

Olha said she recently spoke with a fellow Ukrainian woman in town who told her she cries every day.

“I told her she needs to stop crying and get a job,” she said with a smile.

Keeping busy is a recurring theme as a coping mechanism to avoid dwelling on the dangers facing families and the constant stream of bad news from home.

“I try to live my life and keep busy so I don’t have to think about it,” Olha said as her eyes welled up.

Lisa Foster said watching the news with her husband a few months ago made them feel helpless and they asked themselves what they could do to help, and came up with an answer.

“We can help one family,” she said. “I can focus my hopes for all Ukraine in this one family,” Foster said.

She offers advice for anyone contemplating hosting displaced Ukrainians.

“You’re not going to be doing it alone – there’s a whole community asking ‘What can I do? How can I help?’” she said. “You have to let other people help.”

She had to tell people to stop bringing food and toys. When asked what items were still on the wish list, she said there was one thing.

“Still need a car,” she said with a laugh.

Olha’s English was good enough to catch the answer and chime in as well.

“And a plane.” she joked.

Apparently, if she had a plane, Borysiuk would fly it to Ukraine to pick up her husband and bring him ‘home.’

Foster and Borysiuk made a wish list, which Foster said has two items already checked off.

“Job – check; day care – check; a car, and world peace,” she said.

As happens frequently, the conversation shades from light to dark along with the discussion of the grim reality of daily news showing no end in sight to the bombings. Checking world peace off the list may seem like a distant hope these days.

Olha shrugs. She is overwhelmed with the generosity and community spirit Cochrane has shown her family, adding it restores her faith in humanity.

“People are so kind that it gives you hope there will be peace,” she said.

Howard May

About the Author: Howard May

Howard was a journalist with the Calgary Herald and with the Abbotsford Times in BC, where he won a BC/Yukon Community Newspaper Association award for best outdoor writing.
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