Petro Yankovskyi and his family arrived in Canada in mid-August, seeking safety near Victoria, B.C. from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
But, unlike most Ukrainian refugees, they were fleeing their home in Russia. When the invasion of Ukraine began six months ago, the Yankovskyis were based in Siberia as medical health professionals.
“We were scared because we don’t know when our freedom (would be) over,” Petro told CTV News Vancouver Island on Friday.
Petro’s wife, Olga, was employed as a nurse and Petro as a paramedic. Petro says that knowing Russian attacks were taking lives in his homeland was incredibly hard, but he didn’t hesitate to save Russian lives and do his job.
“I can help them, I don’t see enemy,” he said. “We’re all people…we all have a problem with health.”
But, as the war escalated, they feared for their lives and decided it was time to relocate.
“It felt very danger(ous),” Olga said. “It was awful.”
The war in Ukraine has prompted thousands of Ukrainians to come to Canada, prompting communities across the country to come together to collect supplies and help their new neighbours make homes here.
Since the federal government first announced in March that it would be opening new ways for Ukrainians to seek refuge in this country, approximately 74,500 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada.
The Yankovskyi family is currently staying at a former resort that’s been converted into a safe haven for refugees by carpenter and businessman Brian Holowaychuk.
Holowaychuk, who is of Ukrainian heritage, worked for months to convert the 82-acre property into a free home for displaced Ukrainians. He’s already providing free lodging for 24 Ukrainians at the renovated property in east Sooke, near Victoria.
“I can’t imagine being in their shoes, so when they contacted us — you know that they were looking for somewhere to go — we, fortunately, had room left,” he said.
Victoria Grando, the manager of Victoria’s Ukrainian Cultural Centre, told CTV News Vancouver Island that she’s hearing from increasing numbers of Ukrainians hoping to escape Russia.
“(It’s) more and more unsafe for Ukrainians who are working there,” Grando says, noting the centre helps direct Ukrainians hoping to escape Russia to online information about Canada.
But often these websites aren’t accessible to Ukrainians in Russia due to their tight censorship laws.
The Yankovskyis hope to start fresh and put down new roots in Canada. The couple’s six-year-old daughter, Lisa starts school next week. Her parents are hoping to get Canadian credentials in healthcare and work in their new homeland — saving lives once again.