Canada is like a whole new world in so many ways to Ukrainian woman Oksana Pryshlyak and her two children Danyla Badun, 10, and Zlatasvita Badun, 3.
They’re a long way from home taking refuge in Chemainus to temporarily escape the ravages of war in their homeland and it’s been tough for Pryshlyak to leave her husband Roman Badun behind in the Lviv suburb of Vynnyky where they live. But she’s grateful to Catherine Murphy and Steve Chadwick for taking them in until they can return.
First impressions of Canada for Pryshlyak are “it’s a big country in terms of area and space,” she said through Chadwick’s interpretation.
Indeed, the country must seem massive and it took a long time to get here after the family left Ukraine and was offered shelter by a private citizen in Poland until arrangements could be completed to bring them to Chemainus. Pryshlyak and her husband knew Murphy and Chadwick from previous connections in Ukraine and they were only too happy to return the favour.
It’s been about a month since Pryshlyak and her children have been in Chemainus getting used to a new life until hostilities subside. She’s been learning English through the Cowichan Intercultural Society.
Chadwick and Murphy are parishioners at St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Nanaimo. Chadwick has Ukrainian heritage and knows enough of the language to carry on a conversation with Pryshlyak.
“When we have conversations about specifics about politics, it’s a bit more complicated to explain the subtleties that go with it,” he said. “I’m learning all the time, too.”
The kids are adjusting as well as could be expected.
Murphy has already noticed certain trends in both of them.
“He’s the science and math guy and she’s going to be the comedian, you can tell,” laughed Murphy.
They both enjoy jumping on the trampoline at the Murphy and Chadwick home.
“His favourite place to go is the beach,” said Chadwick in relaying Danyla’s response.
“She loves to go the playground,” he added of Zlatasvita’s comment.
Murphy said the mom Pryshlyak is a good cook and “she’s artistic with her presentation.”
“She feels just like she’s at home,” Chadwick said Pryshlyak told him. “She feels very well-received by us.”
Pat English, an artisan on Thetis Island, recently gave her a dress with a sunflower pattern on it.
The sunflower has been long been Ukraine’s national flower, but is looked upon now as a symbol of strength and resistance as the nation is fighting.
The family was in Poland three months before finally getting the clearance to come here.
“It’s been really quite a long trip from Ukraine,” Chadwick said she told him. “It was really a hopeful moment when she was finally able to receive the documents and come to Canada.
“As soon as the war started, they realized things would have to change and they would have to do things differently whether that was remaining in Ukraine or coming to Canada.”
Pryshlyak reiterated the feelings of so many Ukrainians when the threat of a Russian invasion first surfaced.
“I think it came as a surprise to most people in the country that Russia would have invaded,” Chadwick related. “They think the threats were to intimidate or scare the population. They didn’t believe it would happen.”
They immediately took precautions in the early days, as people stocked up on food.
“They didn’t know if there would be any fruits or vegetables in the stores because things would be emptied,” noted Chadwick.
Pryshlyak is holding dear the response she’s received since her arrival in Canada.
“When she first arrived at the airport, people were extremely welcoming and kind,” Chadwick indicated.
“People have been very kind,” conceded Murphy.
Pryshlyak has been in constant contact with her husband and he’s doing well under the circumstances in the safer region of western Ukraine.
“He phones us every day,” said Chadwick.
“He’s such a jolly guy,” Murphy offered. “No bad things are happening at home.”
Sometimes it all seems surreal to Pryshlyak about what’s happened in her life.
“She’s hoping the war will finish by the end of the year,” Chadwick translated. “There’s been a lot of support for Ukraine – in particular, Canada. It was great Justin Trudeau came a couple of times to the country.”
Her own leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been like a Rock of Gibraltar throughout the crisis.
“She thinks Ukrainians are lucky to have him as a president,” Chadwick relayed from Pryshlyak. “She thinks he’s brave and honest and open and he’s trying to help Ukraine. Some other leaders have maybe been out for their own self-interest. He’s just really, really hardworking and he was always there. She didn’t really like him as a comedian, but he is a good president.”
Murphy and Chadwick are happy to help, but reserve the highest praise for those who have taken in Ukrainian refugees without ever previously knowing them. Their connection to the family goes back to 2018 when Chadwick first flew to western Ukraine to attend a seminar hosted by the psychology department at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. The Ukrainian expat friend he brought with him as an interpreter contacted Roman Badun, an old school friend, and he offered them a place to stay when none of their credit cards or bank cards worked in Ukraine.
Chadwick, Murphy and their house guests will soon be taking a trip to Drumheller, Alberta to see more of our vast country.