By Laura Keil

Iryna Borodulina, 27, and Valerii Vinichenko, 30, had always hoped to see Canada. The Ukrainian couple was working in a factory in Poland when the war broke out in Ukraine and they were unable to return home. They researched their options and discovered Canada’s assistance program for Ukrainian refugees. 

“It was kind of a surprise for us because we always dreamt about it,” Borodulina said. “When we heard about the program for Ukrainians, we were maybe one of the first people to come here.”

The couple is now settled in the Tete Jaune area with their hosts Swanny Pleister and Taggart Wilson. They look forward to leading a normal life.

“We feel better,” Borodulina said. “And when we call our family and it’s all okay, we can breathe with relief.”

Taggart, whose Grandmother immigrated from Ukraine in 1913, said they decided to take in a family after seeing the news.

“When the war got started, we were all feeling a bit powerless and helpless to do anything about it,” Wilson said. “We thought it would be one way we could alleviate some of the suffering of people escaping the war.”

Once they connected with Nancy Addison in Jasper, who was coordinating the arrival of Ukrainian families, things went really quickly: they were matched up with the pair within a day or two and two weeks later the couple was ready to fly over.

Borodulina and Vinichenko said they love being in the mountains and all the nature that surrounds them. They also said they have been treated with lots of kindness during their short time in Canada.

The couple’s home is just an hour west of Kiev. The pair spend much of the year working in a factory in Poland, and this is where they were when the war broke out. Their family, however, was still in Ukraine, and while Borodulina’s mother and sister managed to escape to Warsaw, Poland, many family members are still in areas of Ukraine marred with fighting.

“We try to be in touch with them every single day because it’s terrifying,” Borodulina said.

She said her uncle’s house had the windows blown out and everything stolen by Russian soldiers.

While they still worry about them a lot, landing in Canada has lifted some of the stress.

Around their hosts’ kitchen table, they celebrated Easter together by decorating Ukrainian Easter Eggs and baking a special bread called baska.

During the interview with the Goat, Wilson exclaimed about the borscht he was eating that Borodulina had prepared.

Wilson said they’ve hosted workaway couples over several summers and so it didn’t feel like a stretch to host a couple from Ukraine. They set up the basement for them so they have some privacy, and they share the kitchen upstairs.

“It seems like a small inconvenience compared to the help we can give to them,” Pleister said.

Many people have donated clothing, computers, money—even a car, for the Ukrainian couple.

Swanny says if anybody wants to take someone in, they can definitely help make connections. 

“There’s no end of people that would like to come over here and who would need a leg up,” she said.”The program the Government of Canada put on actually does not support the people coming here. They don’t get refugee status. They get a three-year work visa work permit with a three-year visitor visa. A lot of them come with very little means.”

Wilson said he wanted to give a shout-out to Nancy Addison in Jasper.

“She has been tireless in this effort to accommodate and find housing for Ukrainians, and it’s not the first time she’s been at this. When the Syrian war was in its most violent times, she was also doing this type of work. She’s just an amazing individual.”

Borodulina says they are so grateful for the chance to come to Canada.

“Thank you for this opportunity.”

Anticipating arrival

Retirees Bill and Joan Kruisselbrink are waiting for their Ukrainian refugee family to arrive soon from Poland—two young girls (ages 3 and 6), a mom and a mother-in-law. 

The couple said they wanted to do something to help after watching the disturbing images of the war on the news.

“That whole situation is just kind of sickening, so we thought, well, this is something we can do. It will liven up the place a little bit,” Joan added, glancing around their home located on an acreage just outside Valemount. 

The couple has hosted exchange students in the past. Originally they received the paperwork from the government, but the forms were complicated so they’d given up. Then they saw Pleister’s note on facebook and she put them in touch with Addison from Jasper who was coordinating the effort to bring numerous Ukrainins to the area. With her help, they got the ball rolling.

The Kruisselbrinks said they look forward to meeting their family who are awaiting their final paperwork before they can land.

A friend’s grandson made a card for the girls to welcome them (see photo). 

“We’re hoping they’ll just sort of become our family,” said Bill.

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET) “is for Ukrainians and their family members who want to come to Canada temporarily while the situation in Ukraine unfolds and then return home. It is not a refugee program.”

The program page also says Ukrainians and their family members working and studying in Canada “will be able to gain valuable Canadian work or education experience to help set them up for future success should they eventually choose to seek permanent residency.”

Anyone interested in hosting Ukrainians—or sponsoring refugees from anywhere in the world—can contact Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) or contact a local sponsor for more information. To contact Swanny and Taggart, you can call 968-4500 (area code 250).