By Maggie Hua, Lifestyle Columnist
It was an early morning, 5am to be exact, where it all began. A mother rushed into her son’s room informed him they needed to evacuate as a bomb destroyed a building right next to their apartment after Kharkiv was subject to airstrikes on March 1, 2022. The mom, dad, and son immediately packed their documents, toothbrushes, their cat, left their home, and started their survival journey.
Although the war between Ukraine and Russia may seem far from us, after reading some news and articles about how the victims in Ukraine were being treated, I decided to help. So, I joined “I Can Help Host”, a solidarity platform created by dedicated volunteers with the aim of providing free accommodations for Ukrainians who were forced to leave their homes, along with many other hosts across the globe. Soon enough, I was matched with the mom, 41, and the son, 16, who would flee to Canada in May. I was excited and nervous knowing two strangers would be living with me for some time. Other than their names, ages, and her occupation, I did not know much about them.
It was a bright day on May 2, 2022. I waited at the airport with my mask on starring at passengers who may have some resemblance to the pictures they had sent me earlier. They spotted me first. We waved at each other and then we gave each other a big hug. Very few words were exchanged but we were all happy. On our car ride back, I wanted to ask them so many questions, but I wasn’t sure what would be appropriate or where to even begin. As the mom and I were chatting, I glanced at the son from the rear-view mirror and noticed his eyes were red and watery. Was it because he missed his dad who was left behind in Ukraine? Was it because he did not know when or if they would reunite again? Or was it because all this seemed so unreal and different than what they had experienced? So, I stopped talking.
They arrived with two suitcases and their cat. Everything else was left behind. Their apartment, car, jobs, personal belongings, and, most importantly, their loved ones due to various reasons. When I asked the mom how she felt knowing her sister chose to stay in Kharkiv, where they were from and where it was bombed, she said, “there is no right or wrong choice in such difficult circumstances”.
It’s been a few weeks since they arrived, and we would sometimes have dinners or watch movies together. Still, first thing every morning, they would check their phones to see if their family and friends have survived the night. They just needed to see these few words pop up on their screens, “yes, I am alive”. They can then move on with their daily routines.
We’ll never appreciate how much these simple and yet powerful words mean to us until life suddenly takes twists and turns. I cannot imagine what they had been through. If a 16-year-old were living in a peaceful country, they would’ve been learning how to drive a car or going out to parties. Instead, the son lived in a shelter and shared 3 thin slices of bread and 3 tomatoes with his parents and their cat for THREE days; and walked for miles late at night through empty train stations to escape from places being bombed. They had each other, at least.
The mom and the son were the lucky ones who survived and fled. They are extremely grateful for all the help Canadians have offered them. It is vital they have a temporary place to stay as they continue this journey, and a chance to get back on their feet with work and a new life here.
There are many innocent citizens still in the process of trying to flee to a safer country. After all, we are all just one big family on this earth. Other types of assistance can be offered via the Facebook group, “Atlantic Canada Hosts for Ukrainians”, to help them transitioning their lives in Nova Scotia smoothly.
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