Ukrainian refugee finds 'peaceful, safe' home in Sudbury, Ont.

As fighting continues to destroy her home country, Ukrainian Olha Iovych says she’s searching for a peaceful, safe community where she can temporarily raise her family. And she may have found that respite in northern Ontario.

Olha Iovych and her daughter, 9, are adjusting to life in the Nickel City

Before arriving in northern Ontario, Olha Iovych was a psychologist in Ukraine. She's one of several Ukrainian refugees who have settled in Sudbury following a mass exodus during the Russian invasion that began in February. (Jonathan Migneault/CBC)

As fighting continues to destroy her home country, Ukrainian Olha Iovych says she's searching for a peaceful, safe community where she can temporarily raise her family.

And she may have finally found that respite in northern Ontario.

Iovych is one of several Ukrainian refugees who have settled in Sudbury following a mass exodus from Ukraine during the Russian invasion that began in February.

Iovych said while many refugees are located in larger urban centres like Toronto, she chose Sudbury, despite knowing little about the community or life in northern Ontario. 

"Part of the reason that they have come here is that they understand that Sudbury is not a huge community," translator Sonia Peczeniuk said. "It's not like Toronto … and what she said beforehand was that Russia has taken away their lives. 

"So they want to come to a community that is basically peaceful and safe and where they can learn English and her child can learn English, and they can integrate into our society here."

Along with her nine-year-old daughter, Iovych left Ukraine, with stops in Warsaw and Toronto, before a distant cousin connected her with Jasmine Rovinelli — a host family in Sudbury. The family hopes to remain in the community, at least until fighting in Ukraine ends.

The call-out for assistance, Rovinelli said, came as a bit of a surprise, even to her.

"When the war first started, I don't know why, but I just felt obligated. I had to do something.

"I can put a roof over your head, but that's it," Rovinelli said. "Anything else, I can't help you with. We're not rich. We don't have a big home. But can put a roof over your head."

Rovinelli posted twice on Facebook, offering temporary shelter for Ukrainian refugees, but received no replies. The third time ended up being the charm, she said.

"After two posts, I got nothing. I hemmed and hawed, thought about it, 'Do I do it? Am I wasting my time?' I didn't know."

Rovinelli's husband provided her with just enough motivation to keep trying. 

"He told me, if you want to do it, just do it. So I threw that third post on."

WIthin 10 minutes, Rovinelli said, Lana Rudenko, Iovych's distant cousin, reached out.

"She said, 'I have a mother and daughter who's in Ukraine right now looking to get out. Can you help?'" 

Safe, but starting from zero

So far, Pecneziuk said, life for Iovych is now like "starting from zero."

"When she was in Ukraine, she had an excellent career," Pecneziuk said, citing Iovych's vocation as a psychologist and a fair-sized following on social media. "You know, life was really good. There were future prospects.

"But you have to appreciate that when you come here … and you don't know the English language and all your future prospects are shattered because it's not going to be the same. Then it's very, very hurtful."

Pecneziuk said the challenge for Iovych will be to get a handle on the English language and see life return to some semblance of normalcy.

"She's under a lot of stress because she knows that she has to figure out how to get employment," Pecneziuk said. "She doesn't speak English, which is, you know, stressful for her. It's difficult to communicate.

"More importantly, all of her life and career, and her education was totally channelled into becoming a psychologist. And she was a very, very successful one.

"And now she knows that what was important to her in terms of a career, she can no longer have that, but she has to seek whatever employment she can in order to survive." 

But even as war tears through her homeland with no end in sight, Iovych holds out hope she can one day return.

"She would like to go back ... her nine-year-old really, really wants to go back," Pecneziuk said.

"You have to appreciate how beautiful a country it is. All her friends and everything that she grew up with, everything she knows is familiar, is there."

As for the others who have arrived in Sudbury with similar stories, Pecneziuk said the goal will be for them to connect and hopefully integrate in the larger Canadian community.

"She's looking for opportunities where she can socialize with other people who are going through that same experience, the Ukrainian, Russian-speaking diaspora," Pecneziuk said about Iovych. 

"So then it will be easier for her to communicate and for people to be mutually supportive."


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