Montreal seniors' home community with eastern European ties 'very stressed' by Ukraine invasion

Some 30 per cent of a seniors' home in Montreal's east end, the CHSLD Polonais Marie-Curie-Sklodowska, is Ukrainian. The home largely serves the city's Polish population, meaning most residents and many staff members have a eastern European connection.

Support offered to CHSLD Polonais Marie-Curie-Sklodowska residents as they anxiously follow Ukraine conflict

Seniors home with Ukrainian and Polish residents hit hard by war news

9 months ago
Duration 0:56
Residents and staff at CHSLD Polonais Marie-Curie Sklodowska in Montreal say they're struggling to process and deal with news coming from Ukraine and Poland.

Eugène Antonyszyn was a young teenager in Ukraine during the Second World War.

"War is a terrible thing, you know. I cannot describe war," said Antonyszyn, who went on to work for the American military, guarding prisoners of war in Poland.

Nowadays, the 95-year-old is anxiously tuning in to the news as his homeland is once again invaded by a foreign power.

So are most residents of his seniors' home in Montreal's east end, the CHSLD Polonais Marie-Curie-Sklodowska, where 30 per cent of the population is Ukrainian.

The CHSLD is largely dedicated to serving Montreal's Polish community, working closely with the local health agency, the CIUSSS de l'Est-de-l'Île-de-Montréal.

Just as coming from eastern Europe is something most residents share in common, so is the anxiety and worry that comes with seeing the conflict develop there as Russia continues its unrelenting invasion of the democratic nation of Ukraine.

"I've been through war before. I know what it is. I know it is not easy to go through war," said Antonyszyn.

He said he knows what it is like to go hungry, and relying on snow for water.

The seniors' home is located in the borough of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. Montreal has a sizable population of eastern Europeans, including Ukrainians, and there has been a surge in public demonstrations and fundraising campaigns to support the besieged country.

Olga Ivanyuta, the home's care director, said it's not just the residents who are concerned about what is happening in Ukraine, which borders Poland.

"I see our employees very stressed," she said. "They are crying, not sleeping well. They forget to eat normally."

She said they too are glued to the news, watching for signs that their own family is safe.

Olga Ivanyuta, care director at CHSLD Polonais Marie-Curie-Sklodowska in Montreal, says staff and residents are worried about the situation in Ukraine. (Hugo Lalonde/CBC)

Auxiliary nurse Andriy Lenyk is among those worried sick.

He moved to Canada from Ukraine in 2003. But, his brother-in-law and his family are still there, in western Ukraine, closer to the Russian border.

"It's fallen on my head like thunder. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream," he said.

He said there have been explosions in and around his home city.

Russia has been bombarding Ukrainian municipalities for about three weeks in an effort to gain control of the democratic country of 44 million people.

On Tuesday, Russia stepped up its attack on Kyiv, the country's capital, devastating an apartment house and other buildings, while civilians in 2,000 cars fled Mariupol along a humanitarian corridor. It's believed to have been the city's largest evacuation yet.

To support those at the CHSLD Polonais Marie-Curie-Sklodowska, the local health agency is offering psychological services.

Staff are visiting rooms, talking with residents and organizing activities to keep their spirits up.

Michael Susyzcki, a social worker with the CIUSSS, said the workers are trying "to keep the flame of hope alive."

Michael Susyzcki is a social worker who has been helping residents of CHSLD Polonais Marie-Curie-Sklodowska deal with the Russian-Ukraine conflict. (Hugo Lalonde/CBC)

He said many residents' war memories that they had mostly put behind them are being stirred up once again.

"It's really, for many of them, extremely difficult," he said.

He said staff are encouraging people to stay united with Ukraine.

"We believe in victory," he said.

The CIUSSS says it is also looking into ways to donate supplies like beds and medication to Poland to help people fleeing Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Antonyszyn said it's clear moving to Canada 70 years ago was a good choice. Here, he explained, he has had a good life, where he and his family are safe from conflict.

"I made the right move because otherwise I don't know what would have happened to me," he said.

"Thank you, Canadians. I am grateful, Canada."

with files from Chloë Ranaldi


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