Ukrainian family 'speechless' with surprise welcome party at retirement home

Hugs, toothy grins from ear to ear and cheers greeted Inna Yermolenko and Boris Khodorkovsky as they arrived at Symphony Senior Living retirement home in Ottawa on Monday morning.

Group of 5 moving rent-free for 6 months into Symphony Senior Living

Inna Yermolenko, left, and Boris Khodorkovsky are moving into their new home at Symphony Senior Living in Orléans on Monday. The Ukrainian couple, along with their three kids, fled the Russian invasion of their country this year. (Christian Milette/Radio-Canada)

Hugs, toothy grins from ear to ear and cheers greeted Inna Yermolenko and Boris Khodorkovsky as they arrived at Symphony Senior Living retirement home in Ottawa on Monday morning. 

Dozens of vibrant yellow and blue signs and balloons waved in the air, held up by residents receiving the Ukrainian couple as the newest members of their family.

"Welcome home," they said, over and over again.

"This was a great, great surprise. This was so touching," said Yermolenko of the unexpected welcome party on their move-in day. "We didn't expect it." 

"Just speechless," said Khodorkovsky.

WATCH | Couple touched by hospitality of Orléans residents: 

Ukrainians fleeing war welcomed to new home at Ottawa retirement community

9 months ago
Duration 1:20
Inna Yermolenko and Boris Khodorkovsky were greeted with signs, balloons and hugs when they arrived at the Symphony Senior Living retirement home in Orléans, which will be their home rent-free for six months as they start new lives in Canada.

The couple and their three children fled Russia's invasion of their country. An estimated 3,200 Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war have already landed in the nation's capital as a network of settlement agencies and volunteer groups help them get accustomed to their new communities. 

And for the retirement home in Ottawa's Orléans suburb, the decision to welcome the family was easy.

Christine Turner, vice-president of regional operations with Symphony Senior Living, said the retirement home had an apartment available. Residents, their families and the wider community donated furniture and helped prepare the space.

"It was actually fun," she said. They're offering the family the apartment free of cost for six months.

"We're hoping that maybe it's comfortable enough for them to stay here with us afterward."

A resident holds up a blue sign, welcoming a Ukrainian family into their new home for the next six months. (Christian Milette/Radio-Canada)

New beginnings

"It will be so helpful for us, I can't express," said Yermolenko. "We lost everything and we start from zero here. So this is a very, very, very big support for us."

Khodorkovsky, who said he studied in Canada as a student more than two decades ago, said he can't express his gratitude enough.

"I left when I was a student. So I spent my entire life in Ukraine … Now I'm starting here from scratch; credit scores, everything," he said.

The couple used to own a business making children's toys in Ukraine. They're hoping to eventually open another business in Canada, but acknowledge it'll take time.

"It requires a lot of effort, time and money … So this will help us settle from certain point, just to go on our own," Khodorkovsky said.

Khodorkovsky shakes the hand of a retirement home resident during their surprise welcome party. (Christian Milette/Radio-Canada)

Resident Patricia Nelson said she feels thankful and blessed to be part of the welcome party.

"Because they're people just like me. We're all people. And I'm glad we can help them out," she said. 

Pierrette Woods said she feels proud to be part of the community, especially on a day like this.

"I'm sure everybody here will be willing to help them. We just have to be careful not to overwhelm them because they have gone through horrendous things in their country."

With files from Christian Milette