Edmonton

They moved here from Russia. They fear the country they left will never be the same

As the invasion in Ukraine intensifies, Russians living in Canada are struggling with complicated emotions as they decide what the future holds for their relationship with their homeland.

'After what has happened, I don’t have a desire to relate myself to that place,' says one Russian student

Trofim Modlyi and Valeriia Granillo are siblings originally from Khabarovsk, Russia. Modlyi arrived to visit his sister in Alberta in December, but has no plans to return to Russia, where a letter has arrived asking him to report for military duty. (Mike Evans/CBC)

Trofim Modlyi, 18, arrived in Canada from Russia in December 2021 to visit his sister. Now, he is living here in exile, after a draft order arrived in Russia asking him to report for military duty there.

His parents informed him of the draft order's arrival, which states that it is his duty to report to a military commissariat to undergo a physical evaluation and attend other events related to conscription.

He initially arrived in Canada via a one-way ticket on a visitor's visa and is now considering his options — whether he will work or enrol in school here.

Modlyi is one of many Russians living in Canada right now who are struggling with what their future with their homeland looks like as Russia's invasion of Ukraine enters its third week.

"I was kind of happy for myself that I left the country before this all started. I got really, really lucky," he said.

I left the country before this all started. I got really, really lucky.- Trofim Modlyi

"I'll definitely be staying in Canada because I don't want to get in trouble and go to war, go to war with Ukraine."

His sister, Valeriia Granillo, moved to Canada from Khabarovsk, Russia, in 2012 in search of better opportunities.

The 29-year-old Granillo, who now lives in Grande Prairie, Alta., said she simply didn't see a future for herself in Russia.

"You either have to be very high up top or you just will be always in the bottom," Granillo said.

'It's just not safe for him to return'

She now works in cancer care and is a mother of three. Now a Canadian citizen, she has been watching the invasion of Ukraine in shock. 

"I would never think [Putin] would actually go that far. Ukraine is such a close country to us, to Russia," she said.

According to the most recent census, there are more than 620,000 Russians living in Canada. Some of them are concerned that Russia's actions will affect their lives in Canada. Granillo said she is worried about her friendships with Ukrainian friends will persevere. 

This is a time of "great upset" for members of the diaspora, said Alexia Bloch, an expert in Russia and migration at the University of British Columbia.

Many Russians have family in Ukraine, and Bloch said what is happening now harkens back to a time when Russia was part of the Soviet Union and cut off from the world.

WATCH | 'I got really, really lucky' 

They moved here from Russia. They fear the country they left will never be the same

9 months ago
Duration 2:23
As the invasion in Ukraine intensifies, Russians living in Canada are struggling with complicated emotions as they decide what the future holds for their relationship with their homeland.

"At this point, what we see is a sort of echo of that time that we thought we had gotten beyond," she said.

"This moment is chilling. It's chilling because it's reminiscent of the Cold War… Nobody wants to return to that time — a time of such heartache and a time when you could only imagine how people were living."

Granillo also fears for her brother. She is emotional when she considers the possibility of him fighting in the conflict.

"We would never, even in a peaceful time, wouldn't want him to go and serve," she said.

"Now with everything, what's going on, it's just not safe for him to return. And I would never do this to my mom, to send him back.

"I don't think it's fair for anyone to go serve in the army and kill people or die for someone, especially if you're not supporting this regime."

The siblings are hopeful they can reunite with their parents one day. Granillo plans to sponsor and bring them to Canada.

Similar concerns

Philipp Solovyev is originally from Moscow and moved to Canada in 2017 as an international student. Like Granillo, he was in search of a better life and the "freedom of being able to say whatever you want."

The 22-year-old studied at the University of Alberta and now works in an Edmonton bank.

But he has felt helpless watching the conflict but he has taken action by participating in rallies in Edmonton in support of Ukraine and has donated to humanitarian efforts there. 

Philipp Solovyev, who is originally from Moscow, scrolls through social media on his phone in Edmonton as the conflict in Ukraine intensifies. He fears he may never be able to see some of his family members again. (Julia Wong/CBC)

He is torn over what Russia means to him now.

"Do I relate myself to that country? Well after what has happened, I don't have a desire to relate myself to that place," he said.

Solovyev is not sure whether he will ever return to Russia, saying he will only do so when there is a different government in place.

I know and they know we might never be able to see each other again.- Philipp Solovyev

"I have family members there — I know and they know we might never be able to see each other again," Solovyev said.

"We talked about it and we ended up crying again."

WATCH | The effort to get aid to fleeing Ukrainians: 

Getting aid into Ukraine

9 months ago
Duration 1:21
The CBC's Susan Ormiston explains what is being done to help people fleeing hard-hit areas of Ukraine. 'This is the beginning of a huge humanitarian aid wave coming into Ukraine," she says from a massive old tire warehouse, housing the aid.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now