There is a saying in Ukraine that fish look for deeper waters, while humans look for better places. Places where one would feel safe and happy become, to some extent, the goal of life. I belong to those who search for the better places.
I was born in the former USSR and grew up in a town called Gorodok east of Lviv. I have no memories of what it was like to live oppressed in the Soviet Union. By the time I reached real consciousness, Ukraine was already independent. I was seven when independence was proclaimed and six days after that historical event I started Grade 1 at Secondary School No. 3.
We dressed in national Ukrainian costumes during the Sept. 1, 1991, official ceremony that marked a new beginning -- the first cohort of Ukrainian students to attend school in the new epoch.
We were so proud and excited.
Up until then, Grade 1 students would have dressed in Soviet brown costumes for boys, and gowns with white aprons for girls.
It was the beginning. Ten years later we were the first graduates of both an independent Ukrainian school system and a new millennium. We were very proud with awesome feelings. We were young and possibilities were open for us that had been unimaginable a decade earlier.
I was a good student with a passion for languages, including English, which was not an option for earlier generations. So, by the time I graduated, I had decided to continue my studies at the Pedagogical University in the faculty of foreign languages. I was absolutely sure that was my field of specialization.
Meanwhile, during my school years I had other opportunities not open to earlier generations but which seemed normal to my generation. I twice visited Canada, coming to Winnipeg where my relatives lived. Those trips had a great impact on my future decisions.
Step by step, a dream began forming in my head. What if I leave my country for the sake of another? What would my future be? Why do I need this?
It wasn't that I was rejecting my motherland -- I love it no matter what. But I simply wanted changes in my life. I was only following my dream.
So I applied to move to Winnipeg and spent years in waiting for unknown results.
But then it came. You can go. The dreams came true.
I am grateful to my country for this possibility. If I were a former USSR resident, would I be able to leave so simply just because I want to?
No, definitely I would not have had the chance. And if I had left, my family would have been severely affected by Soviet authorities.
But for me and my generation, it was all different. We grew up in an independent country. I was and am free, and I so much appreciate this fact.
New generations of Ukrainians have more possibilities than our parents or grandparents had. And the new wave of Ukrainian immigration to Canada or any other country has no boundaries, walls or obstructions.
Two years ago I met Gerald Flood, comment editor of Winnipeg Free Press. I was doing some interpreting services for him during his visit to Lviv. A couple of days ago we met again at a restaurant here in Winnipeg -- a place where we both live now.
The freedom of choice! The world seems so small and yet boundless. You just have to cross the ocean.
My generation should appreciate what we have and expect. No less should we feel sorry for those who didn't have such opportunities in the past. We will remember them and take pride in their efforts. New life, new possibilities are opened for us.
The freedom of choice belongs to a new generation of contemporary Ukrainians.
Create and live your life, as you live only once.
Oksana Ivanenko arrived in Winnipeg in the fall of 2010 and immediately found work in a Ukrainian credit union. Last autumn she returned to Ukraine and married the man she had left behind. They live in Garden City.