Visa delays prevent UNB student and family from fleeing war in Ukraine
Faith Igogo says support from friends in Fredericton helps keep her spirits up
Faith Igogo and her family are counting down the days until they can call Fredericton home.
They are desperately waiting for Canadian visas after eight months of searching for a way to escape the war in Ukraine.
Originally from Nigeria, Igogo is a remote international student completing her master's degree in health at the University of New Brunswick.
She started the program remotely from Kiev, Ukraine. She had lived there, working as a pediatrician, for 13 years and hoped to move to Fredericton once the pandemic settled.
But the war changed everything.
Since the Russian invasion in February, the family has taken shelter in four different countries. Igogo was forced to give birth to her second son in a Ukrainian bomb shelter.
The family is currently living in a refugee camp in Poland.
"It's been a mix of different feelings, we've had to cry, we've smiled sometimes, we had hopes, we've almost given up," Igogo told Information Morning Fredericton.
"Worst of all it's been a season of wait and anticipation."
Igogo said the support she has received from the Fredericton community has helped keep her spirits up.
Reza Mehboob, one of Igogo's professors at UNB, said he became worried for her safety in February when she didn't attend several classes.
"I know Faith, she's a very good student," he said.
Mehboob sent Igogo a message to see if she was all right and received a response one week later. Igogo she said she and her family were in a very serious situation.
"It was very painful to hear and I could hear from her voice that she was in desperate need of help," said Mehboob.
Mehboob decided then that Igogo needed more support than he could offer on a personal level, so he reached out to the dean of graduate studies at UNB, Kevin Englehart, and the Morning Gate Church in Fredericton.
"They were shocked, they didn't know what to do but they wanted to help."
When the war hit
Igogo said her family and friends called her repeatedly during the weeks leading up to the invasion, concerned about rumours of an impending attack.
She didn't feel too worried because she lived in the west of Ukraine.
But the reality of the war sunk in when her family in Nigeria sent videos of the Kiev airport in complete disarray.
"As time went on, we started hearing rockets and everything over our roof," said Igogo.
At that time, her son was just over a year old and she was in the first trimester of her second pregnancy.
Igogo and her husband, Shadrach, thought the attacks would eventually stop, so they stocked up on groceries and gas and decided to stay in their home.
"It became more intense and eventually we were the only ones left in our building of about eight floors and over 200 apartments," she said.
Before the war, Igogo had applied for a tourist visa to enter the United Kingdom for a trip.
She and her family were able to flee there, with financial support from UNB and the church.
But once they arrived, Igogo said they were designated as tourists and couldn't get access to the healthcare they needed for both her pregnancy and for her son Ivan, who fell ill.
She said they also were concerned about challenges they would face if her baby was born in the U.K., because the baby wouldn't have the same citizenship as its parents.
Igogo said the family decided they would go back to Ukraine and find a place on the border of Poland to stay, believing that would be best for their unborn child.
Just months later, Igogo gave birth in a bomb shelter.
"It was traumatizing, we were on the ground, it was cold," she said.
Igogo was in the basement of a hospital in Ukraine, surrounded by other women in labour, as sirens wailed outside.
Five days after Igogo's baby was born, she got the child's birth certificate and the family fled to Poland.
Mehboob said the community in Fredericton kept in touch through this time, offering financial support and spending hours on video chat. He said they were concerned when Igogo decided to leave the UK and return to Ukraine.
"We understood that she was doing this, not just thinking of the present, but as a mother, as an immigrant, as a person of colour, about her children's future and she had no choice."
Mehboob said the ultimate goal is to bring Igogo and her family to safety in Fredericton, but visa delays are preventing this.
When Igogo applied to immigrate into Canada, she did so as a student. Now, even though both of her children are Ukrainian citizens and she is a permanent resident of Ukraine, the family doesn't qualify as refugees.
"We have tried all the avenues here in Fredericton… this is not an ordinary situation, this is an extraordinary case," said Mehboob.
He said finding Igogo and her family lodging and food for the day they finally arrive in Fredericton won't be a problem.
"The community here has two arms open, we're ready and 100 per cent willing to help Faith and her family be part of our Canadian family."
Igogo said the love and support she has received from her university and local church is "overwhelming."
"It's making us look forward to home … a place where we can start our lives."
"We're looking forward to and having people give us hugs and say, 'now you're home, now you're safe'."
With files from Information Morning Fredericton