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From Europe to Lac La Biche: a Ukrainian couple's journey of hope

Young Ukrainian couple's first month after immigrating to Lac La Biche County as the Russian-led war impacts their home, has opened new opportunities and security, locally.  

LAC LA BICHE - For one young Ukrainian couple, the prospect of moving to Canada offered an opportunity to experience the “Canadian dream,” peace, growth, and most of all security. For 25-year-old Valerii Rohovyi and 27-year-old Hanna Kotlobai, settling in Lac La Biche County just over one month ago has been an experience filled with plenty of local support. 

As Remembrance Day nears, many Canadians will reflect on the rights and freedoms that have been fought for. 

While Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February of this year caught the world's attention, building their lives in their home country has been a challenge for many years. 

Just over eight years ago, Rohovyi moved to Poland and worked in various European countries after experiencing conflict and bombs in his hometown in Kharkiv, Ukraine, a city roughly 30 kilometres from the Russian border.  

Settling in a new country 

About one year ago, the two met in Poland and decided to make the journey overseas together, explains Rohovyi. His girlfriend, Kotlobai, who previously studied law, and is from Rivne, Ukraine, is now working at the local Value Drug Mart. She has family members in the community who have supported them. Rohovyi got a job working at LaBone's Kitchen & Bar, which he describes as a comfortable hospitality environment – an area he has years of experience in. 

“They are very good people and helped us a lot… Canada has given us hope,” he says, speaking about the support from family members, the local community and through federal and provincial funding support programs. 

Harking back to the challenges that brought the couple to a new land, he reflects on the loss of loved ones during the current war and the brutality of modern warfare that has seen bombs affect the people of his country. 

“I have had two friends who have died in the war… If you fight a war you need to use soldiers and not bomb civilians in residential buildings,” he said, explaining how dangerous and tragic the conflict is. 

European impact 

While spending years away from Ukraine since tensions have been growing, Rohovyi says today the entire European continent has seen and felt the impacts of war, making it an even more difficult place to live. 

He recalls one of the biggest challenges has been the trade and sanctions put on Russian oil and gas products, which many European residents rely on.  

“Russia’s attack not only affected Ukraine, but it also affected all of Europe because Russia was the number one exporter of gas to most of Europe,” he said. And as a result, logging wood to heat homes became the norm in the 21st century as furnaces and electric heating became redundant. 

“In 2022 in Europe, you have to heat your house with wooden stoves… it's expensive and timely.” 

While the journey to northeast rural Alberta has been encouraging so far, moving forward, the goal is to continue to thrive and contribute to the community that has welcomed the pair with open arms. 

“I needed more money… now I have money to help my family. I plan on staying in Canada.” 

As Rohovyi and his partner continue to settle in the community, he thanks those who have supported them personally, and those who have supported Ukraine.  

“If someone has the opportunity to donate, even $2, to support the Ukrainian army’s efforts throughout Europe in this difficult time, then please do it,” he says.