British Columbia

Ukrainian refugees in B.C. deal with the horrors of war while trying to adapt to a new life

Canada is opening its doors to welcome refugees from Ukraine, some of whom are settling in B.C. 

Recent arrivals from Ukraine say they are grateful for the support they've received

Oksana Druchynina fled Ukraine and is now staying with a family in Langley, B.C. (CBC)

Canada is opening its doors to welcome refugees from Ukraine, some of whom are settling in B.C.

Oksana Druchynina and her three children were travelling from the city of Molochansk to Kyiv when the invasion began. She spent the night in Kyiv and decided to leave the country with nothing more than a change of clothes. 

Her husband was not allowed to leave — most men of fighting age are barred from leaving the country — and is still in Ukraine.

"It was hard because I have my parents and I knew that my husband wasn't able to come with us because no men are allowed out of the country right now," she said. "But the fact that you have to save your kids, you have to save your family was stronger than that. You basically have to leave everything behind."

Druchynina, who served as the director of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine, has settled in Langley, with relatives of a colleague. 

"Watching the news, seeing the pictures, all the images, there's an incredible feeling of we want to do something," Joel Stobbe said. "There's a situation that seems so far beyond our control and there's nothing that I can do to stop the war as far as I know but there is something that I can do to try to help individual people."

Druchynina says she is grateful that Canadians have welcomed her family with open arms. 

"You feel special, but in a wrong way because you're a refugee," she said.

She also can't help but feel fortunate compared to many of her compatriots. 

"People are starving, they're out of their homes and here I am, I have this all offered to me. So this just doesn't feel right," she said. 

She is still settling into life in Canada and it is unclear what the future holds. She said she might apply for refugee status. 

There are times, however, when she forgets she may not be back in Ukraine anytime soon, as when someone recently prepared her a meal she enjoyed. 

"I thought, 'Oh, I want to take this recipe, go home and make it,'" she said. "But I'm not going home."

B.C. prepares for Ukrainian refugees

Last week, B.C. Premier John Horgan said the province is preparing to welcome refugees from the conflict in Ukraine. 

Horgan met with local Ukrainian community leaders and settlement organizations to discuss the needs of this refugee population, which include translation and trauma counselling services.

Housing, he said, will be the biggest challenge and he pointed to a number of opportunities for temporary housing, including vacancies at ski resorts in the off-season and on-campus university student housing.

Dmitry Bratchenko came to Canada four years ago as a refugee. He is now looking for a new place to live after his three teenage children from a previous marriage recently arrived in Canada, following a long journey from Ukraine.

The children were originally scheduled to fly out of Ukraine on Feb. 16, but plans changed after one of them tested positive for COVID-19. Their departure was rescheduled for March 2. Russia began its invasion Feb. 24.

Bratchenko's children made it to Poland where friends took them to Germany and they managed to make their March 2 flight to Canada. 

There are now six people in his one-bedroom apartment in Coquitlam and he's looking for a bigger place to live.

Like Druchynina, Bratchenko is thankful for the help he has received from the community, particularly a local church, as his children adapt to a a new life.

"They support us, they encourage us," he said. "I think it's the main feeling — that you are not alone. This is what helps you get through this situation." 

With files from Jon Hernandez and Eva Uguen-Csenge