Ukrainian family’s life in Canada begins

‘I want to thank them so much for giving my kids and my family this opportunity to smile once again,’ says father


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The long journey is almost over for a young Ukrainian family who arrived in Winnipeg Friday.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/04/2022 (340 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The long journey is almost over for a young Ukrainian family who arrived in Winnipeg Friday.

It’s only a matter of hours now before they’re driven through the forests of the Canadian Shield to a lodge in northwestern Ontario. The hope is there, the children — who’ve been through so much — can be kids again while the parents adjust to their new home country.

Viktoriia Katsal, Christian Anayo Egwuom, and their two children, Davyd Egwuom, 9, and Filip Egwuom, 4, will be staying at Browns’ Clearwater West Lodge in Atikokan, Ont., thanks to an initiative headed by the lodge’s owner, Aniela Hannaford.

“I want to thank them so much for giving my kids and my family this opportunity to smile once again,” Egwuom said. “We still pray for those back home; we still remember them so much.”

Hannaford knew she wanted to open her doors to Ukrainian families the moment she heard Russian forces were shelling the nation. Without hesitation, she freed up the lodge this year to accommodate as many families fleeing the war as possible.

“We’re providing work for the first three families for the next six months,” Hannaford said. “After that, we have another facility right beside where they’re going to be staying… We’ll bring families over and rotate them so they can come over, decompress, intentionally choose the community they want to be in, have some time to find work and housing, and get set up comfortably.”

Hannaford connected with the family through a Facebook group for Ukrainian refugees seeking housing in Canada — Katsal was the first to respond to Hannaford’s post.

The chaos and bloodshed in Ukraine took an emotional toll on Egwuom and Katsal’s children, the father said. At one point, the family had been in hiding for eight days — the boys in tears for much of this time, Egwuom said.

The parents decided it was in the family’s best interest to flee their home in Kryvyi Rih, a city of about 600,000 people in central Ukraine. After crossing into Poland, the family stayed in Austria for three weeks before departing to Canada.

Once they secured visas, the rest fell into place.

Egwuom, who was born in Nigeria and moved to Ukraine 14 years ago, said he’s overwhelmed by how co-ordinated the Hannafords were in getting his family to Canada. Hannaford’s sister, who lives in Kitchener-Waterloo, drove to Toronto to greet the family when they first arrived in Canada.

“They cared for us; they gave us all we needed,” Egwuom said. “We lacked nothing — not any single thing.”

Hannaford’s sister hosted the family for two days, before helping them catch one of the first flights to Winnipeg after Manitoba’s spring snowstorm had passed.

Egwuom said that upon leaving Ukraine, his children’s conversations gravitated to things that had happened back home. But, since arriving in Canada, their talk has shifted to curiosity about this new country

Egwuom said his son Davyd has enjoyed experiencing the difference in weather from Toronto to Winnipeg.

“We have a beautiful beach campground that’s packed in the summer, so they’ll experience northwestern Ontario extremely naturally,” Hannaford said.

Hannaford has co-ordinated with professionals in the health care, employment, education, faith, and immigration sectors in several northwestern Ontario communities to help the family settle in.

The two other Ukrainian families Hannaford is supporting will make the journey to Canada once their immigration documents are finalized.

“Then it’s just organizing flights to get them over here,” Hannaford said.

Hannaford is collecting donations for the families through the crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo. The portal can be found under the campaign name “Help bring Ukrainian refugees to Atikokan.”

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