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2 years since Ukraine war, this family is grateful they are in Canada. But their future is still uncertain

Liza Smetankina, left, holds her daughter Emilia Pavlenko, and her husband Alexsandr Pavlenko, right, holds their daughter Alisa Pavlenko.  (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)
Liza Smetankina, left, holds her daughter Emilia Pavlenko, and her husband Alexsandr Pavlenko, right, holds their daughter Alisa Pavlenko. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)

When Liza Smetankina and her husband Alexsandr Pavlenko reflect on the past two years, they're grateful to have had the chance to resettle in Canada and create a safe home for their children.

But they often think about their family and friends, some of whom are still in Ukraine.

"It's [a] really bad, scary situation," Smetankina said of the ongoing war.

"Lots of people lose houses, lose business, lose job, lose money and lots of people lose parents, sons and uncles."

CBC News met up with the family shortly after they settled in Windsor in May 2022. Since then, Pavlenko and Smetankina have watched their children grow, and put their older daughter, Alisa, in school.

"Our kids feel very comfortable to live here," said Smetankina.

"My smaller one was born here, so it's her home."

Alisa Pavlenko says her favourite colour is pink and she likes painting in school.
Alisa Pavlenko says her favourite colour is pink and she likes painting in school.

Alisa Pavlenko says her favourite colour is pink and she likes painting in school. (Submitted by Alexsandr Pavlenko)

Pavlenko has also recently started a new junk removal business called Ukrainian Workers. But the 38-year-old says he's also recently find out about some health issues that will eventually require him to get a kidney transplant.

Hundreds of Ukrainian newcomers have come to Windsor 

Saturday marks two years since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Since war broke out, Windsor's Ukraine National Federation branch estimates that between 400 to 500 Ukrainian newcomers have been supported in the city.

Some of them have settled in Windsor, whereas others have gone to other parts of Canada or Europe, and some have even gone back to Ukraine, according to Windsor's Ukrainian National Federation member Carol Guimond.

"I thought this would be over long before now," Guimond told CBC News.

"It appeared that the Ukrainians were doing a very good job at the beginning of the war and now as it progresses, things are getting a little bit dicer."

Guimond says she worries about housing availability for those looking for refuge in Canada, as the country deals with a shortage. She added that as the war goes on, she fears that support for Ukraine will "dry up."

The second generation Ukrainian says she's happy with the support the Canadian government has extended to Ukraine and hopes that that continues.

The Ukraine National Federation is holding an event on Saturday to commemorate the second anniversary of the start of the war at their Ottawa Street location.

Carol Guimond is a member of the Ukraine National Federation branch in Windsor.
Carol Guimond is a member of the Ukraine National Federation branch in Windsor.

Carol Guimond is a member of the Ukraine National Federation branch in Windsor. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Guimond says speakers and political leaders from all three levels of government will be in attendance.

"Nothing happy to think about this weekend. Thinking about what was, what is and what might be," she said.

"It's a day that has to be commemorated, we have to remind people in the community that there still is a war and there still is a need."

Andriana Pitre, co-founder of Windsor-Essex Supporting Ukrainian Newcomers (WESUN), says Ukraine needs continued support.

"It's heartbreaking to see what's currently going on [in Ukraine]. It's really important for the western nations to continue to support Ukraine in its ongoing battle," said Pitre.

Up until the end of 2023, WESUN has helped 251 Ukrainian adults and 98 Ukrainian children in Windsor.

Windsorite Lasha Dudar is one of many community members who has taken in Ukrainian Newcomers. She's currently sponsoring her third Ukrainian family, but had initially taken in Pavlenko and Smetankina when they first arrived to Canada.

"I've just wanted to be a stepping stone to help them get to where they needed to be," said Dudar.

She's currently housing a Ukrainian teenager, who's going to school in the region.

Lasha Dudar has sponsored three Ukrainian families since 2022. She says she's relied on the support of the community to allow her to get clothes and items that the families need.
Lasha Dudar has sponsored three Ukrainian families since 2022. She says she's relied on the support of the community to allow her to get clothes and items that the families need.

Lasha Dudar has sponsored three Ukrainian families since 2022. She says she's relied on the support of the community to allow her to get clothes and items that the families need. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Family facing uncertain future

All of those CBC News spoke with say they hope to see the war in Ukraine come to an end.

Smetankina doesn't think their family will ever move back home, though Pavlenko says he wants to.

"But I can't and I will not do this because for me, my family is more important than [a] return to, to where? I don't have nothing now."

The family has settled into Canada, but feel that without refugee status and only a temporary visa, there's uncertainty around how long they'll be able to stay.

They say they want to start the process of becoming permanent residents, but don't think that will be easy.

Liza Smetankina holds her daughter Emilia, who was born in Canada about three months after the family arrived.
Liza Smetankina holds her daughter Emilia, who was born in Canada about three months after the family arrived.

Liza Smetankina holds her daughter Emilia, who was born in Canada about three months after the family arrived. (Submitted by Alexsandr Pavlenko)

And amid all this, they watch from afar as their home country continues to suffer. They told CBC News that they want peace for their family and friends who are still back in Ukraine and Russia.

"I want Ukraine [to not] lose soldier[s] anymore, because all of the solider it's someone's child, someone's dad," said Smetankina.

"It's just my hope [that] all of [the] territory will go back to Ukraine and Russia just will leave their life."