By Andrea Arnold
Nina Sokolova counts herself very fortunate to have escaped from her home in Ukraine and join her daughter Anna McLennan in McBride.
Sokolova holds a firm belief in a greater power and felt a sense of calm as the world she knew literally began to explode and crumble around her.
Through McLennan’s translation, she told the Goat of the path that brought her to McBride. As she shared, the emotions she shared did not need translation.
Sokolova’s home is in Kharkiv, only 40km from the Russian border. A ring road goes around the city, and the Russian army was behind the ring road in small settlements they had captured. Behind Sokolova’s apartment complex was a forest that the Russians bombed because there was a TV tower and a church that they wanted to destroy.
“Since February 24th there has been non-stop shooting,” said Sokolova. “The first day, when the Russian military came into the city, the Ukranians kicked them out. So the Russians bombed the city from the forest outside the circle road that surrounds the town, close to my home.”
When the fighting began, many of Sokolova’s neighbours left. She doesn’t know where they went, whether they left the city altogether or not. Many people hid in underground subway stations.
Her apartment complex emptied quickly; only a few residents, including Sokolova, remained.
She said that when the war first started, no one could believe it was happening. People didn’t know how to act.
“They were brave and fought back because they had to to protect their lives,” she said.
After only a few weeks of fighting, the hatred for Russians grew. This is something her community had not had before. They started to see many Russians show hatred towards Ukrainians for no reason.
Living so close to Russia, many of Sokolova’s neighbours were either Russian or had Russian family. McLennan said she has relatives in Russia from her dad’s side. Since the war began, she has had one message from one cousin, but that is all.
It was a surprise to Sokolova when the fighting began.
“I had a sense of peace, that the fighting would be over in a short time, so I did not flee,” she said.“However, on March 30, as shelling intensified in the immediate vicinity, I had a feeling of strong anxiety that something bad was about to happen. I heard a supernatural but clear message that it was time for me to leave and that things were going to get worse and for a long time.”
Within 30 minutes, Sokolova packed what she needed and left her home after dropping off her apartment key with her neighbour.
“My neighbour cannot leave,” she said. “She has nowhere to go, she has no money to go anywhere. Her mother can barely walk, so they cannot go anywhere. I left my key with them in case someone comes and needs a place to live.”
Within a half hour of receiving her supernatural nudge Sokolova left her home and headed to Lviv, 1000 km west of Kharkiv. The trip took 16 hours by train. In Lviv, she caught a bus to Warsaw, Poland.
While on the train, she met a family who, not unlike herself, was fleeing the country.
“They had a little girl, about a year old,” she said. “They had been living in a subway station for a month. They had not seen daylight in a month, and they were starting to get sick. They had nowhere to go, no plan. They were just determined to get out.”
Many refugees have fled to Poland and their refugee camps are bursting. The camps are a temporary settlement where people were distributed according to the country in Europe they wanted to go to. Although the country is trying to help the flood of humanity seeking safety, the accommodations they can provide are crowded.
“The camp was crowded, it was full, but there were still places,” said Sokolova. “I can’t say anything about food.”
Sokolova saw what conditions were offered at a refugee camp, and was concerned that her belongings may disappear if she stayed. She had the financial means to put herself up in a hotel. She was walking through the streets of Warsaw when a man pulled up, and thankfully, in the Ukrainian language, offered her help.
He helped her find the train station, a hotel and figure out what steps she needed to take to get to the Canadian Embassy and continue her journey to Canada. She already had a visa so that eliminated the minimum two week wait that others were experiencing. This means a wait in either a refugee camp or a hotel.
“Even the most cheap hotel in Poland was $50 a night,” she said. “The average worker in Ukraine made between $200-$500 a month before the war. People want to leave, but they can not afford to. Flights to Canada are $2,000. The roads are open for people to come to Canada, but the price is too much.”
One of Sokolova’s neighbours wanted to come to Canada, but was unable to due to finances. She has, however, safely made her way to Switzerland.
She said many people left the eastern part of Ukraine and fled to the western part instead of leaving the country altogether, because it is all they can afford to do.
After her documents were in order at the Canadian embassy in Warsaw, Sokolova went to the Warsaw airport to buy tickets to Canada. There, a Ukrainian man helped her to properly complete all her travel documents. She bought tickets from Warsaw to Paris and from Paris to Vacouver. The whole trip took a week from the day she left her home, until the day she was scheduled to arrive in Vancouver.
In France, she didn’t leave the airport during her 12-hour layover before the final flight brought her to British Columbia.
As she watches the events unfold in her homeland from the safety of her daughter’s home in McBride, she, along with McLennan, cannot believe the atrocities being done by one human to another.
Since the beginning of the war, she has seen how the communities of Bucha and Irpin and other settlements in the Kyiv region were wiped off the face of the earth—nothing was left. She heard reports of terrible things happening in Mariupol, Volnovakha, when the Russians made their way through destroying houses and lives. Things that no one ever thought could happen. Sokolova believes Russians fight according to the principle “if not for me, then no one gets it.”
“It is like a child who, when they are asked to share a toy but doesn’t want to,” she said. “He breaks it, so no one can play.”
As far as she knows, her house, an apartment building, is still standing. A bomb hit the basement of a neighboring building, and a kindergarten next door was half destroyed.
“Those still remaining in Ukraine need supplies like food, medications and clothing,” she said. If people want to help, that is a huge need. Although she does not know how to get supplies from Canada, she knows there are groups closer to Ukraine that are accepting donations to help keep supplies flowing.
It wasn’t until Sokolova arrived in Canada on April 6, that she truly felt the enormity of the situation. She had felt calm throughout her journey, as she sensed she was not alone each step of the way.
“I felt that there was something more powerful than me protecting me,” she said. It was as though she was being given a small angel army to help her. From the unmistakable knowledge that she needed to leave her home immediately, to the helpful man on the streets of Warsaw and the individual in the airport.
Sokolova does not know what her future holds. She doesn’t know if she will have a home to go back to. The whole city receives heating from the same system. If that system has been destroyed or damaged, no one will have heat.
For now, she is grateful to be safe, here with family, and hopes to get involved in the community to help take her mind off of what is happening back home.
“I pray that angels keep this from ever happening in Canada,” said Sokolova.
“I am one of the fortunate ones,” she said. “I had the means to leave, and somewhere to go. If Anna wasn’t here, I would not have been able to leave.”
For those wanting to help Ukrainian people in need of supplies, organizations such as UNHCR https://tinyurl.com/2te8vpt3 and Canadian Red Cross https://tinyurl.com/3st3z586 are using donations to provide those impacted by the crisis in Ukraine with much needed supplies. Samaritan’s Purse is working to provide medical facilities in Ukraine, and relief items where there is need, https://tinyurl.com/t6k5j2h2 .