Neighbours in Ukraine find refuge south of Ottawa

A group of Ukrainian neighbours have made it safely to eastern Ontario after fleeing the horrors of war in their home country.

'Bringing the girls here all together is like making our family larger'

Four Ukrainian women and one of their sons recently left home to start a new life with host families living in nearby eastern Ontario communities. (Felix Desroches/Radio-Canada)

A group of Ukrainian neighbours has made it safely to eastern Ontario after fleeing the horrors of war in their home country.

Lena, Vika, Natasha, as well as Katya and her young son Dima were forced to leave their homes, located in the same neighbourhood in the Black Sea port city of Odesa.

While Russia's invasion has led to a mass exodus, the four women remained together thanks to eastern Ontario residents Stephanie Gilmer and Richinda Bates.

Gilmer and Bates used to work in Ukraine, where they met the four women.

"They're like a small family. Stephanie and I are like family," Bates told Radio-Canada. "So bringing the girls here all together is like making our family larger."

Immediately offered home in Merrickville

Knowing the four women for five years, Bates said news of the invasion was like hearing her own daughter was caught in a war zone. She immediately reached out to Vika to offer up her home in Merrickville, Ont.

The welcome is warm, but the pain is still intense, Lena said. The horrors she witnessed are hard to forget.

"Now we are here. We feel safe," she said. "To be honest, I can't always feel calm because [of the] war in Ukraine."

"But [the] people who are around us, they do a lot [so] that we feel better." 

Lena said she feels deep anger watching what's taking place in Ukraine. She'd like to return home eventually and hopes that day arrives soon.

Lena, left, is embracing her new life in her host family in Kemptville but would like to return to Ukraine someday. (Radio-Canada)

Want to bring over more Ukrainians

Gilmer, who's hosting Lena, Katya and Dima in nearby Kemptville, said the two raised money in conjunction with their church.

She said she thinks the four eastern European women will take a long time to recover from the trauma they have experienced.

"While they're safe here in Canada, they have left behind friends and family who are still in a very unsafe situation," Gilmer said.

"That's a very difficult thing for them to process."

Gilmer and Bates would like to help the four women bring more people from eastern Europe over, but will need to raise money. 

"It warms my heart to see the girls just wanting to help bring more girls here," Bates said. 

"It's incredible how they've been through so much yet their hearts are huge, their smiles are big. They're little rays of sunshine."

With files from Radio-Canada's Rebecca Kwan