'I can't believe that we are safe,' says Ukrainian refugee beginning a new life in Manitoba
First couple arrives in Manitoba cottage community after seeing CBC story
It's been a long journey from war-torn Ukraine to a quiet cottage community in western Manitoba but Hanna Palamarchuk and Mykola Prysiazhnyi have finally made it.
"We are extremely grateful to the community and extremely grateful to CBC for your report because that's how we knew about this opportunity for us," Palamarchuk, 31, said on Tuesday, hours after stepping off a plane in Winnipeg.
That opportunity includes a safe place to live and jobs, an offer put together by people in the cottage communities of Clear Lake and Onanole, Man., with financial support by Elkhorn Resort and the Municipality of Harrison Park.
"They emailed me directly after seeing the news show that you put on and they got their paperwork fairly quick. The first ones to arrive, they want to work right away, which is great for us," said Chris Phillips, manager of Elkhorn Resort.
The couple has experience in the hospitality industry. With their excellent English, they will work as servers in one of the restaurants and live in staff housing.
"It's been a pretty good experience," Phillips said of the process of bringing the couple to Canada. The resort is working with at least two other family groups who also want to move here after seeing the CBC story.
"It feels nice. When I hear from some of these people and what they're going through, it's pretty heartbreaking," Phillips said.
Palamarchuk and Prysiazhnyi's journey began in Kyiv on Feb. 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine.
"I heard the first, I'm not sure, was it a missile or was it the jet fighter at 5:00 a.m. in the morning? And then I heard the explosion not that far away. I woke her [Palamarchuk] up and we started searching for any news to see what is happening," Prysiazhnyi, 33, recalled.
After spending the next day in Kyiv metro stations, which were doubling as bomb shelters, the couple decided to join others heading west to Poland.
Honestly, I can't believe. I still can't believe that this is our reality. I can't believe that we are safe.- Hanna Palamarchuk, Ukrainian refugee
"We hoped we will be back in maybe one or two weeks because we thought the negotiation will start and they will come to some kind of conclusion and we'll stop fighting," Prysiazhnyi said. "But it only escalated further and further."
The couple crossed the Polish border on Feb. 26, just after the mobilization of fighting-aged men was proclaimed.
Prysiazhnyi was allowed to leave Ukraine because he had been dismissed from military service 12 years ago due to health conditions which were on a list of exclusions.
Once at the Polish border, the couple was touched by the kindness of strangers.
One picked them up and took them to his family home until they could find another place to stay.
Back in March 2021, the couple had started the immigration application process for Canada's Federal Self-Employed Program, based on their small e-commerce leather goods business. (It is on pause because they had to leave all their tools and materials behind, but they hope to get it started again soon.)
On Feb. 28, two days after they fled to Poland, they got an appointment to provide their biometrics to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
On Mar. 17, the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program was launched. The next day, they applied for temporary residency with an open work permit. Within two weeks, their CUAET applications were approved. IRCC is now processing their permanent residency applications.
"So many lucky coincidences that brought us here," Prysiazhnyi said.
"Honestly, I can't believe. I still can't believe that this is our reality. I can't believe that we are safe," Palamarchuk added.
The two arrived in Manitoba with just two small survival backpacks they had packed a month before the Russian invasion. Each bag contained: their documents, a laptop and chargers, their valuables, a camera, flashlight, three sets each of t-shirts, socks and underwear, one sweater, first aid kits, protein bars, and hygiene products.
With the province locking down ahead of a blizzard, Phillips took them into nearby Erickson to do some shopping.
This part of Manitoba has a large Ukrainian population. Every summer, the nearby community of Dauphin hosts Canada's National Ukrainian Festival.
Word of the newcomers' arrival spread quickly.
Within minutes, the Co-op store manager was introducing them to one of his employees, who is originally from Ukraine.
Her eyes filling with tears and her voice breaking, she and the couple immediately started speaking to each other in Ukrainian and shared an emotional hug.
"That was unexpected and surprising," Palamarchuk said with a big smile on her face.
Concern for those left behind
"She's from Vinnytsia, about 30 miles from where we were growing up," Prysiazhnyi added. "In different parts of Ukraine, people speak a little different Ukrainian. And she speaks Ukrainian the way we speak."
As they shopped for shampoo, cereal, bacon and bread, several people stopped to shake their hands and welcome them to Canada.
Palamarchuk and Prysiazhnyi are still worried about those they left behind in Ukraine. They're worried about the future of their country too.
But they are grateful to have this chance to start a new life.
"We are very lucky and we are very happy to be in Canada," Prysiazhnyi said.
"We are extremely grateful to the Canadian government who allowed us to come in. We are extremely grateful to CBC News for making this report, for making this possible for us, for providing all the information we needed. And we have big hopes for the future."