When the Kozakov family left their home in Ukraine more than six months ago, fleeing the horrific war that had broken out in their home country weeks earlier, they had no idea they would end up in a small town in the B.C. Interior.
Viacheslav, 33, and his wife, Oleksandra, 32, arrived in the South Cariboo with their two young daughters, Diana, 10, and Anastasia, six, earlier this month, following a harrowing escape from Ukraine and several months in the Netherlands planning their next move.
The family fled their hometown of Kamianske – a city of 300,000 people about 200 km southwest of Kharkiv – following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February.
While the family did not immediately flee when war broke out on Feb. 24, they quickly realized it would not be safe to remain in Ukraine.
Several times while still in Kamianske, the family was awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of air raid sirens and rockets overhead. Viacheslav and Oleksandra – who are expecting their third child this fall – would frantically grab the girls and race down five flights of stairs in their apartment building to the safety of a basement underground.
“We would sleep in the (basement) because we needed to be safe,” Oleksandra said, recalling how upsetting those nights were for their young daughters and other children from the building.
On March 8, the Kozakovs packed everything they could fit in their small car and fled for Poland, leaving behind the city where they had lived their whole lives.
From Poland, they travelled to the Netherlands, where they spent several months trying to decide where to go next.
“We heard that Canada was opening doors for Ukraine,” Viacheslav said, and so the family began the process of applying for refugee status.
While in the Netherlands, Viacheslav connected on line with Bridge Lake resident Janet Derepentigny, who had joined a Facebook group for Ukrainian refugees seeking information and support.
Derepentigny invited the family to stay with her while they got settled into their new lives in Canada and helped them with the process of arriving.
“And now here we are,” Viacheslav said. “We are very happy.”
A welder by trade, Viacheslav has recently found a job in 100 Mile House, and the girls have started school at Horse Lake Elementary.
The family is hoping to find a place to live closer to town or with transit access to 100 Mile as soon as possible; Oleksandra is due to give birth to their third child, a boy, in less than two months.
Kimberly Vance-Lundsbye, a settlement and immigration support co-ordinator with Cariboo-Chilcotin Partners for Literacy Society (CCPL), is working with the family to help find appropriate accommodation and address any imminent needs.
“We would love it if there’s somebody who has a suite in their home that they currently do not rent out that they’d be willing to open up to a family at an affordable rate while they get on their feet and get settled in our community,” Vance-Lundsbye said. “That’s the biggest thing right now.”
There are other things the family will need as they settle into their new lives – such as good winter boots and snow gear for the girls – but Vance-Lundsbye said instead of physical donations, CCPL is hoping to collect gift cards or monetary donations to provide to the family to cover the costs of their most urgent needs.
“Because they’re in a transitional state with housing, physical goods are not ideal at this time,” Vance-Lundsbye said, noting that anyone who donates to CCPL will be provided a tax receipt.
“Being able to shop and purchase their own things after several months of being displaced will bring them a lot of joy and a sense of normalcy.”
Vance-Lundsbye said it was important to note that 100 per cent of any money collected would go back to supporting local Ukrainian refugee families, including any families that may arrive in the near future.
“In the meantime, we’re going to support them with getting connected with the community and all their settlement needs with immigration and English language learning,” Vance-Lundsbye said.
Anyone interested in helping can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-644-5869.
As the Kozakov family adjusts to their new lives in the South Cariboo, they said they are overwhelmed by the warm welcome they have received from Derepentigny and others in the community.
“It is beautiful. Beautiful people, beautiful place. We really like it,” Viacheslav said.
Submitted by Melissa Hermiston, Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy