Ukrainian student in Sask. calls on Ottawa to lift visa requirements as family flees war

A student from Ukraine studying at the University of Saskatchewan is calling on the Canadian government to ease visa requirements as he works to bring his family members, who recently sought refuge in Poland, to Canada.

Ukrainian man says family home was bombed less than a day after they fled

Bohdan Titorenko is in Saskatchewan while many of his family and friends are either fighting in a war against Russia, or fleeing from it. He wants the government to ease visa requirements to allow Ukrainians, like his family, into Canada. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC News)

A 20-year-old student from Ukraine living in Saskatoon is calling on the Canadian government to ease visa requirements as he works to bring his family members, most of whom are fleeing from the Russian invasion, to Canada.

In November, Bohdan Titorenko left Ukraine to pursue a wrestling scholarship at the University of Saskatchewan. He called his father, Oleksandr Titorenko, on Thursday to tell him that Russia was invading. He said his father didn't believe him at first.

"He called me 20 minutes [later] to say 'Bohdan, they're attacking,'" Bohdan said. His father sent him videos and said the Russians attacked an army base about three kilometres away.

"I see forest around my house burned … I hear how my mother cry, I hear how my little sister scared."

On Wednesday, Russia continued its assault on Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, despite expecting another round of peace talks Thursday morning.

How can I help my family? How can I help my country?- Bohdan Titorenko

It is not clear how many people have died from the week-old war, but Ukraine's emergency service issued a statement Wednesday morning stating there had been more than 2,000 Ukrainian civilian casualties, according to a report from The Associated Press.

Titorenko said his mother and two siblings have crossed the border into Poland while his father has remained behind to fight against the Russian attackers. Titorenko's lifelong friends have also enlisted, he said.

"I'm just thinking, 'how I can help my family and how I can help my country?'" Titorenko told Leisha Grebinski, host of CBC's Saskatoon Morning.

Bohdan Titorenko with his eight-year-old sister, Anfisa. He said she just recently entered Poland with his mother and 16-year-old brother. (Submitted by Bohdan Titorenko)

Titorenko said there have been times he couldn't eat or sleep, worried about his family. He said he could be in Ukraine fighting for his country and then paused, sniffling and composing his voice before adding, "But I have a responsibility to protect my family here."

LISTEN | University student from Ukraine hoping to bring family to Canada

Leisha Grebinski talks with Bogdan Titorenko, a student at the University of Saskatchewan whose family has already faced devastating losses in their Ukrainian village

Home hit by missile strikes

For three days his mother, Irina Titorenko, and two siblings, David and Anfisa, huddled on the bathroom floor, wary of the bombs that could obliterate their home. Titorenko said that without a basement or shelter, the bathroom was the best option for his family.

Shortly after they decided to flee from their home, located near a military base in northern Ukraine and just outside of a city called Zhytomr, the neighbourhood was bombed, he said.

Titorenko says his friend, Oleksandr Khomich, sent him this video of his neighbourhood in Zhytomyr on fire. He believes his house may be involved in the wreckage. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC Saskatchewan)

On Tuesday, four people were killed in Zhytomyr when homes were hit by a Russian cruise missile aimed at the nearby air base, according to the Ukrainian interior minister, Anton Gerashchenko as reported by Reuters. Reuters said it was unable to verify the information.

Hearing about the attack near his home and seeing videos of peoples' tearful responses caused Titorenko to feel "a lot of pain, a lot of hurt for my civilian people, for my country."

'I will protect country, you have to protect family'

According to Titorenko, his family was able to cross the border into Poland, with the exception of his father, Oleksandr Titorenko, a wheat and soy farmer who stayed behind to join the military.

In a separate interview with CBC, Titorenko said his father told him "I will protect [the] country, you have to protect family. You have responsibility."

Titorenko has been conflicted with how to handle the invasion of his country. He said he donated all of his money to the Ukrainian army and recently set up a GoFundMe page requesting money to bring his family to Canada.

Bohdan Titorenko has created a GoFundMe page asking for support to help bring his family, which recently crossed the border into Poland, to Canada. (GoFundMe)

So far, the funding page has garnered nearly $1,000 of the $10,000 goal.

He's also asking the government to implement visa-free travel to allow Ukrainian people into Canada more easily. However, his family would still have to meet other requirements, like having enough money to stay in Canada.

During a news conference on Monday, federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser said the government is working on a plan to allow more Ukrainians into Canada.

"We're working with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress to develop the best path forward, and working with different provincial counterparts as well, to understand the opportunities do this the right way and the most effective way," he said.

With files from Saskatoon Morning and Bonnie Allen


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