'A miracle': Windsor-area residents unite to bring 11 family members to Canada from Ukraine
Family will stay in LaSalle when they arrive in Canada in April
An Ontario woman is grateful to residents of the Windsor-Essex area who are working together to bring her 11 family members from Ukraine to Canada.
"It's something like a miracle," said Nataliya Kashchenko of the help she's received to bring her family to LaSalle, where they're expecting to stay for several months. "They told me, Nataliya, no worries. Just bring your family. Do the paperwork."
Kashchenko, an ophthalmologist who's originally from Kyiv, has been living in Marathon, Ont., with her husband Julian since 2019.
She has a number of relatives — including her parents Leonid and Valentyna, brother Sergii, sister-in-law Oleksandra, and aunt Antonina Morozenko — still in Ukraine.
And on Feb. 24, when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, life in her home country "changed tremendously," she said.
Kashchenko's brother Sergii acted quickly to move the rest of the family toward the western parts of the country, where they stayed with relatives before moving on to different countries in Europe — including Sweden and Romania — where they remain.
Meanwhile, Kashchenko and her husband Julian, a retired engineer, began trying to figure out the next steps.
"I realized we need a house," she said, since the home she and her husband have in Marathon can't accommodate the large family. "I wanted to find a place anywhere in Ontario ... where we can live all together and save some money."
"It will be absolutely unaffordable for us to rent three houses or rent three apartments."
That home is being provided by LaSalle resident Mary Lambros, who decided she needed to do something after watching news coverage of the war.
"I can't even imagine what these women and men had to do," she said. "And I just felt like there was something I could do."
Initially, Lambros said she planned to donate funds in support of the people of Ukraine, but decided she wanted to do more.
And then, she heard about an app that was connecting people from Ukraine with Canadian residents who could offer them a place to stay.
"I just kind of thought, well, I'll just send them an email, and that's kind of where it all started," Lambros said. "I never thought I was going to get contacted."
"And all of a sudden, three days later, I get this phone call and this girl, Nataliya, is on my cell phone," she said. "The strangest thing came over me. I got very emotional. And then she said to me, 'Are you for real?'
"And I said, 'I am.' She said, 'No, for real. Like, You're really going to do this?' And I said yes."
Lambros heard all about Nataliya's family during that conversation, and promised she'd have her house ready for them when they arrive in Canada.
"I just felt so overwhelmed and just this thrill of being able to help," Lambros said. "So I think that's the passion behind what I'm trying to do, is just to put our best foot forward and give these people an opportunity."
In fact, Lambros is moving out of the home for about six months — she'll live in her cottage in Belle River — while Nataliya's family stays there, but she'll still pay utilities and taxes.
"I think they're going to enjoy being able to just be a family together and really don't need me around," she said.
Kashchenko said she expects her family to arrive in two groups: the first on April 15, and the second about two weeks later.
"We will, you know, make a big family dinner," she said. "We can invite those people who saved us, like Mary and her family."
"Just to cook something Ukrainian for them, you know, to say ... thank you, face to face," Kashchenko said. "That's what I'm dreaming about."
Lambros said she expects the family to be welcomed by the community.
"I think the community's ready to embrace them in a big way," she said. "We don't want to overwhelm them. I'm pretty sure their first few days they're going to want to sleep and barely eat."
"We're going to have enough stuff here, and basically, you know, this has a catering kitchen," she said. "They're going to just have fun cooking. That's all [Kashchenko] talks about. Every time I get on the phone with her, she says, 'I'm going to bake you this and I'm going to bake a cake for you' and all this kind of stuff."
"I think we're all going to be really good."