Four refugees hired by Collingwood-based property management company and plan to use wages to one day help restore post-war Ukraine
Four young adults have awakened each morning this week to a quiet view of Georgian Bay, a paradise compared to the air raid sirens sounding back home in Ukraine.
Katya and her twin brother Slavik Laveynenko, 28, her boyfriend Nikolay Maslov, 33, and her friend Vasyl Medvid, 32 are refugees of war who left their homes, pets, friends, and parents to find a safe place they could work in the hopes of returning home with the means to help rebuild.
They are living and working in Collingwood and The Blue Mountains for a local property maintenance company.
All four come from Chernivtsi, a city of 250,000 people in southwestern Ukraine about 40 kilometres from the Romanian border.
Since Russia’s first attack on Ukraine in February, refugees have come to Chernivtsi for help. Reports estimate the population expanded by about 150,000 people seeking safety and fleeing the attacks in their hometowns and cities.
The Lavrynkekos, Maslov, and Medvid recalled the first attack on Ukraine began at 5 a.m. on Feb. 24, 2022. Russia’s first targets were the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Donbas, and Odessa, where the Lavrynkekos took their annual vacations by the Black Sea.
“People were very scared,” said Katya. “They first attacked military targets, then apartments, museums, schools, hospitals… why hospitals?”
Air raid sirens sound “every hour” according to Katya, but Chernivsti has not yet endured bombing as other Ukrainian cities have.
Family, friends, pets, remain in Ukraine. Vasyl left behind a cat and dog, Katya left her cat.
Katya and Slavik’s father and mother stayed in Ukraine. Their father is fighting alongside the Ukrainian army.
“He is still alive,” said Katya.
They speak to friends and family everyday. Her best friend is pregnant and cannot leave the country.
“They are hiding, and everyday, even now as we speak, rockets are crushing our homes,” said Katya.
Slavik, Vasyl, and Katya fled Ukraine by train and met at Nikolay’s place in Hungary, where he was on a one-year work placement. In Ukraine, they worked at a factory making electric parts for vehicles.
On March 30, all four applied to come to Canada on work visas, and within three weeks had secured three-year visas. By May 10 they arrived to Canada and were staying in Severn until they started their jobs at Property Valet in Collingwood on June 3.
“We trust the security and peace of Canada,” said Katya.
They are grateful to all of Canada and Property Valet for their work and temporary home near the shore of Georgian Bay.
“Every morning we see a beautiful paradise beach,” she said.
All four intend to make their Canadian trip a return flight.
“After the war, we will go back,” said Katya, as the three men nodded in agreement. “We want to earn money and go back to restore our country and our homes.”
She hopes, on her return to her home country, to meet Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky.
“He is the best. He is a nice man and he has a big soul,” said Katya. “I hope to meet him someday and give him a handshake to say thank you.”
In Collingwood and The Blue Mountains, they have found some similarities to their home as they knew it before war.
“People were happy and we were friendly [in Ukraine] … we have met very friendly people here,” said Katya. “We lived near the mountains, and we had lots of forests, but not such big lakes.”
All four wish to offer gratitude to “all of Canada,” for other countries did not offer the welcome they received from Canada.
They are blessed to see the showing of support for Ukraine, with flags flying from homes and businesses, and other displays of yellow and blue in solidarity with their countrymen.
“It feels like everyone wants to help,” said Katya. “We are blessed by it.”
They are currently working for Collingwood-based Property Valet as housekeepers for the company’s rental unit clients. In addition to employment, they’ve been provided with accommodation in The Blue Mountains while they work for Property Valet.
The employer and Ukrainian employees were connected through the Newcomer Centre of Peel and with the help of Ukrainian volunteers and organizers working to support live/work arrangements.
The job and place to live are helping Katya and the others work toward their goal of earning money to help rebuild Ukraine after the war.
“Everyday, I go to work with love, they give us hope,” she said.
Katya encouraged other businesses to follow the lead of Property Valet.
“They should follow the example,” said Katya. “We (Ukrainians) have potential, but we need some help.”
To connect with the Newcomer Centre of Peel, visit their website here.