British Columbia

Victoria police seek witness vehicle as they investigate arson at Ukrainian priest's home

Police are hoping to speak with a possible witness driving a light-coloured, four-door vehicle that went past the home in the 1100-block of Caledonia Avenue shortly before the fire was set. 

Ukrainian Canadian Congress says the fire was an attack on Father Yuriy Vyshnevskyy

Victoria police are hoping to speak to the occupants of a vehicle that passed by the site of an arson just before the fire was set. (Victoria Police Department)

Police have released surveillance video in the hopes of identifying a witness who may have information about an arson attack that saw the family of a Ukrainian priest narrowly escape their burning home in Victoria early Wednesday morning.

Investigators said they are hoping to speak with a possible witness driving a light-coloured, possibly white, four-door vehicle that went past the home in the 1100-block of Caledonia Avenue shortly before the fire was set. 

The building was home to Father Yuriy Vyshnevskyy, the parish priest at the Ukrainian Catholic Church of St. Nicholas, located next door, and his family. 

Victoria police said they are investigating whether the crime was motivated by hate.

According to Vyshnevskyy, his wife woke up around 1 a.m. PT after hearing noises. She assumed it was one of her children walking around the house, then realized the sounds were coming from the front porch.

"The next thing she heard was the sound of ... emptying the bottle and the smell of gasoline," he said. "Someone was pouring [it] inside the house through the mail slot."

"She yelled, she called me and said, 'Yuriy, get up, someone's pouring this into the house' ... Up until that point, there was no fire."

But almost immediately after he was alerted to the gasoline, Vyshnevskyy says, fire erupted and spread "really quickly."

As smoke filled the house, he says he had to abandon his plans to put out the fire himself and then escaped through the back door.

Outside, he saw his wife and children through the upstairs window, gasping for air. He says his neighbour helped encourage the stranded children to jump — their only safe way out of the house.

The family of a Ukrainian priest narrowly escaped their burning Victoria home early Wednesday morning, (Mike McArthur/CBC)

"They trusted us and and they were brave," Vyshnevskyy said.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress called the fire an attack on Vyshnevskyy and his family, and asked police to thoroughly investigate.

"Given that Father Vyshnevskyy is a dedicated community leader, who through his work is strongly supporting the Ukrainian people and their defence of their homeland from Russia's genocidal war, we call on local authorities to investigate this attack as a hate crime," the congress said.

Premier John Horgan offered his sympathies to Vyshnevskyy and his family during a news conference Thursday.

"We don't know yet, as the investigation unfolds, whether it was directed at people's faith, people's ethnicity, we don't know," he said.

"But, what we do know is that all British Columbians stand with the Vyshnevskyy family today, in unison, saying with one voice, we're with you and we're here to help."

The burned-out front doorway of the home. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Vyshnevskyy said he has been overwhelmed by the support shown by the community, with people offering the family food, clothes and even places to stay.

In addition to seeking the occupants of the vehicle, police said they also would like to speak to other witnesses, and collect dashcam or video footage from within a two-block radius of Cook Street and Caledonia Avenue between midnight and 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

With files from The Canadian Press