Marta Placzek had high hopes when she quit her job with the Polish railway, sold everything and packed up her two little kids and new husband and came to Canada in the fall of 2010.
He had a trucking job lined up, friends in Winnipeg and their future looked bright.
Placzek says her dream of a fresh start turned into a nightmare of domestic violence, poverty and fear.
The family arrived in Canada with only visitor's visas.
'At 40, no one wants to give me a job'
A year after arriving in Winnipeg, her husband's promised job didn't materialize. Frustration and tension formed cracks in their relationship.
"He became abusive and vulgar," she alleged through an interpreter. Placzek, 40, discovered her husband was trolling Internet dating sites and confronted him. "He started being physically abusive."
She and the children fled to Osborne House women's shelter, where they lived for more than four weeks. Her now-ex-husband was charged with assault and locked up in the remand centre until he was deported back to Poland. He was not convicted in connection with the allegations.
He's back in Poland and has vowed to get even with her if she returns to Poland, alleges interpreter George Bibik, who says he saw the man's text message.
Bibik, a retired school teacher, grandfather and a leader in Winnipeg's Polish community, was asked to interpret for Placzek at Osborne House. Bibik says he's concerned about the single mom and her children being in legal limbo in Winnipeg and in an even worse situation if they're sent back to Poland. She and her children's visas expired before she was able to renew them.
With no status to work legally in Canada, no health coverage and no access to services or social assistance, she and her children are in a precarious position.
They are struggling to make ends meet in an apartment in the North End. Holy Ghost School waived the tuition so her kids can attend for free and friends have pitched in to help them, Placzek says.
She says she has a close bond with her children and has tried to shield them from the turmoil. "I'm trying not to show them any problems."
She says there is no turning back. They have no one and nothing left in Poland.
The official unemployment rate in Poland is 10 per cent, but it's much higher for middle-aged women trying to enter the workforce, she says.
"At 40, no one wants to give me a job."
In Poland, Placzek attended trade school to become a certified baker, then took a government railway job that offered better pay and benefits, she says.
She has had job offers in Winnipeg but can't legally work and is frustrated.
She says she's grateful to the people who are helping them but she wants to work so she can take care of her children and not depend on others.
"I could get a job easily," she says. "I don't want to be on any welfare."
She says she has a lawyer who's trying to help her stay in Canada but wanted to go public with her story in the hopes someone will do something, her translator says.
"She feels if people read about their situation, people might feel sympathy and try to help, and are not going to point fingers at her," Bibik says.