It was a Thursday night, and her family had gone to bed, but Tanya Pohoroliuk was wide awake into the early morning. Having spent most of the night trying to understand Russian YouTube videos, she decided at 4 a.m. that it was time for bed. She took one last look at Facebook before turning out the light, but what she saw only kept her up later. It was Feb. 24, 2022, and Russia had just started its invasion of Ukraine.
“I remember everything,” she said.
A year ago, today (Feb. 24), the Russian forces that had been gathering on the border of Ukraine turned their threats of aggression into action. Starting with a barrage of missiles launched near Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and Kharkiv. Since then, more than 150,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Canada. The Government of Canada has received, and approved, more than half a million applications.
Revelstoke has welcomed several Ukrainians since the war broke out, including Pohoroliuk and her family. Denys Popov and his wife, Victoriya Latli, also came to Revelstoke from Ukraine in the past seven months. The two families are settled in Revelstoke, but their journey to get here was long, testing, and emotional.
Tanya Pohoroliuk arrived in Revelstoke in May, 2022, from Poland to work as veterinarian technician at the Revelstoke Veterinary Clinic. She and her husband, Oleksii (Alex), their four children Nick (Mykola), Katie (Kateryna), Michael (Myckhailo), Natalie (Natalia), and their dog, Ice, all left Ukraine in 2021 out of fear from a potential invasion. Tanya said they were ‘terrified’ because at that time, there was already a lot of talk about war.
The family left their home in Vinnytsia, in central Ukraine, to head to Katowice in Poland, which is near Krákow. Alex flipped houses with Tanya’s sister who lived in Katowice while Tanya looked for work. Tanya’s father was visiting them in Poland when Russia invaded. He stayed with them for three months after the Ukrainian government closed the airspace over Ukraine. With tears in her eyes and her voice cracking, Tanya recalled a conversation with her mother who was still in Ukraine at the time, about coming to Poland with them.
“My mom said that, ‘we should– we must show to Russia that our land is not empty. We are here. You are young, you should save your children. But we are old people — we should be there.’”
In the weeks following the invasion, friends and family of the Pohoroliuk’s poured into their home in Poland.
“[At] one time, 31 people [were] in my house in Poland,” said Alex.
Their house was packed tight with people trying to escape the horrors of their home.
Tanya started looking for work in Canada and was ultimately hired at the Revelstoke Veterinary Clinic, so she moved to town in May. Alex, the children, and the animals moved in August, which was one of the biggest challenges for him. First, they drove for two days from Katowice to Frankfurt, Germany, so that they could take a direct flight to Vancouver, and then drive to Revelstoke.
Popov and Latli
Like the Pohoroliuks, Popov and Latli didn’t come straight to Canada.
“First stop, we go to Europe,” said Popov.
For them, the war in Ukraine didn’t start last year — it started on Feb. 20, in 2014 when Russian-backed separatists took control of their city, Donetsk, which has a population of almost one-million people.
Popov and Latli have been outrunning Russian forces for several years now, moving from Donetsk to Kharkiv, and from Kharkiv to Kyiv. In the past nine-years, they have only been home three times to see their parents. Last year, when they finally left Ukraine, they went to Italy, where Popov’s mother lives. They tried to establish a life for themselves there, but they struggled. Eventually, a friend recommended Revelstoke to them.
Their Ukrainian lives
As the two families have settled into their new lives in Canada, they’ve reclaimed a lot of their hobbies, but Ukraine is always on their minds.
“I always say that we have two lives. One Canadian life and one Ukrainian life,” said Tanya.
With the nine-hour time difference, Popov and Latli wake up at 5 a.m. and call their family that are still in Ukraine.
“We talk to them every day,” said Popov.
Latli said she asks her family about how they’re doing and whether they need anything.
Popov said that they don’t try to convince their family to move to Canada, instead they just provide information. He said that given the age of their parents, the cost, and the time it takes, he doesn’t believe that they would ever leave.
Tanya and Alex also speak to their family every day in a big group Facebook chat.
“They said they’re okay. But I know that they really often don’t have electricity,” said Tanya, adding that since the invasion, the cost of everything has gone up.
Her family reassures her that they can heat their house with firewood, but without electricity, their phones and computers run out of battery and sometimes Tanya and Alex can’t contact them, which can be scary for them.
Sometimes Tanya and Alex promise each other that they’ll take breaks from the news, but they said they get pulled back in by a need to know. Once, they heard that bombs had fallen near where they lived. When they checked the news, they discovered that the concert hall where their son graduated had been destroyed. Tanya imagined the windows of their family’s apartment nearby shattering, and exploding in on them.
Their Revelstoke lives
Although Ukraine remains on their minds, the families are moving on with their lives in Canada.
In Ukraine, on the weekends, Latli liked to go to the gym, cook, go to the theatre, and get together with friends. Asked what she likes to do now that she is settled in Revelstoke, she replied eagerly with a laugh.
“The same,” she said, smiling.
In the mornings in Ukraine, Popov would get up and go to work at his small metal business before heading to a boxing gym where he coached. Now, Popov gets up early for his job with a local construction company, before heading to the boxing gym, where he’s started coaching again.
Alex is just two months away from graduating with an aquaculture technician diploma. He chose the field because the skills are versatile, and he likes working outside. He has aspirations of working with National Parks Canada.
Tanya works as a veterinary technician for now, but her training in Ukraine gave her a full veterinarian degree, which she wants to do here. In order to practice here, she’ll have to pass the English exam, which she is working on by practicing her English at home on Duolingo. She does her best not to ignore the reminders when they come up.
Both families expressed struggles with the language, but were equally appreciative of the community’s patience with them while they learn.
Neither the Pohoroliuks, Popov, nor Latli tried to predict when or if they would return to Ukraine. For now, they are just happy to have stability.
“For us, for our children, if they want to go back to Ukraine when they’re adult people, okay that’s your decision. But when they are children and I make decisions for them, I don’t want them back there,” said Tanya.
While they enjoy their lives here, the families remained optimistic about Ukraine’s future. In a calm and firm voice, Tanya said, “I’m absolutely sure — we are absolutely sure that Ukraine will win.”