Two cousins and their combined five children had to leave behind everything they knew and loved in Ukraine to find safety for the kids in Canada. Now, they are living with a host family in Penticton. Nadiia Synystsia shares what life was like when war broke out a year ago and what it took to find their new home in Penticton in this two-part series.
It was only four months ago that 13-year-old Ostap Tryhub, his two siblings and his mom left their home in Kyiv, Ukraine to make their way to safety in Canada.
Now the Grade 8 Holy Cross student is enjoying life in Penticton and has become a fan of the Vees, even trying out street hockey for the first time as well as playing basketball on his school team.
He shares a room with his mom and two siblings in a small but comfortable home. It’s maybe a bit cramped but it’s safe, welcoming and away from war.
When he arrived in Penticton, Ostap told his host family he wanted to get a job. His host ‘grandma,’ Diane MacDonald helped him get a paper route with the Penticton Western News soon after he arrived.
Now Ostap is the Western News’ carrier of the month for March.
When asked why he wanted the route, he explained he wanted to make his own money so he could buy his mom a present.
His mom Nadiia Synystia’s eyes fill with tears when she talks about his thoughtfulness and caring.
Synystia left everything behind, including her French perfumes, to bring her family to safety in Penticton.
“Ostap saw me looking at perfumes here and he said, ‘no mom’ I will buy you a French perfume with my money,’” He is doing that so she can feel a bit like herself after so much has happened, she said.
Her son’s love helps make her see how important it was to flee Ukraine and keep them safe, she said.
“The decision was very, very difficult,” she said. “Some in Ukraine see you as a traitor if you leave.”
Before the war, Synystia was a successful lawyer, living with her family in her beautiful apartment in Kyiv overlooking the river. Her kids were going to the best school there.
It was a wonderful life, she said. But in February 2022 everything changed. Russia declared war on Ukraine with their city one of the first to be targeted.
All of a sudden rockets were falling on her town and people were dying. Bridges were being blown up, and a factory beside her apartment was targeted.
Many of her friends and family who had never picked up a gun in their lives were becoming overnight soldiers. When it became apparent they could no longer be safe living at home, they lived in a bomb shelter for the first week the war broke out.
She said when the rockets were dropping in her city, people fled underground to the subways and into parking garages. But these places were very cold and there was no food.
“All the restaurants and grocery stores had closed,” explained Synystia.
They were lucky that her office building was very old and had a bomb shelter. The shelter had been converted into the office gym where there was electricity and access to some food. Soon more people came to their bomb shelter including babies, children, dogs, families, and seniors, she said.
“Everyone is helping everyone. That’s how it’s always been in Ukraine,” said Synystia.
She shares pictures of the few potatoes they had in the bomb shelter that they cooked into French fries and the pancakes they made.
When the war broke out she wanted to stay and help. But it became so dangerous with air sirens every night, and so much bombing. The Russians were going after the subway which is how her kids had gone to and from school.
“I just remember rockets hitting and thinking ‘I don’t know if my children are safe.’ That’s when I knew I had to get them somewhere safe.”
So she researched countries to go to and decided on Canada. She got in touch with the Kelowna Stands With Ukraine Facebook group, who have been instrumental in bringing dozens of Ukrainians to Kelowna and Vernon and setting them up with host families.
She reached out to the group administrator who said they would look for a host family for her. Sysnystia began to organize to leave Ukraine, explaining to other family members that she would be leaving.
Her cousin and her two children wanted to go too. So they decided they would leave for Canada together. But unlike Synystia, her cousin doesn’t speak any English.
“She said to me I can’t be separated from you because I don’t speak the language.”
Seven of them left the bomb shelter, dared to go back to her apartment to grab a few items and piled into Synystia’s car to get to her mom’s home in West Ukraine. Air sirens had been going off since the war started, sounding all night long warning of incoming rockets.
With a small amount of luggage, they risked their lives to drive west. The highway was jammed with others fleeing Kyiv. What should have taken five hours took more than 10 to drive and at that point, they were past curfew.
They needed a place to stay for the night before getting out of the city, but as it has become known, Ukrainians help wherever they are needed. A friend put them up for the night.
When they finally arrived at her mother’s house, there were already 19 others living there that had taken refuge from the war. There was no room for them. Luckily, Synystia had some money and got a hotel.
Everyone believed the war would soon be over but it isn’t.
February 2023 marked one year since Russia started a war against Ukraine. Despite sanctions and nearly worldwide condemnation of the war — it still carries on with Russia renewing attacks on cities and trying to gain strongholds as Ukraine fights back.
When they realized there was no going back home, and the war would continue she booked their tickets to Vancouver. She had no plan beyond that. Nowhere to live and no family in Canada — just a purpose to get her family and her cousin’s family out of Ukraine alive.
The second part of the ‘Leaving Ukraine to protect her family’ will appear next week online and in the March 22 edition.
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