As Russia’s war in Ukraine entered its 100th day Friday, Olena, Teliana and Tymofii – a Ukrainian family of three – reflected on their mixed relief to be safe in Medicine Hat, as well as their grief at all they were forced to leave behind.
The family, originally from central Ukraine, arrived in Medicine Hat late last month and has been staying with a local host.
While they are among the first Ukrainian refugee families to arrive in Medicine Hat, their journey here has not been easy.
“Just before the war started, we were all very anxious about it because it was everywhere in the news,” Olena said. “All people were talking about it.
“In the morning on the 24th of February, I met my mother in my kitchen and she told me the war started. I told her I know, then we heard the explosions of bombs.”
Olena and Teliana debated whether they should remain in Ukraine. Ultimately, decided to evacuate – leaving behind their home and almost all possessions – as they didn’t want to risk the safety of Olena’s young son, Tymofii.
They made their way by bus to Lviv, where mass evacuation efforts were underway. They then bought tickets for an evacuation train, which would take them to neighbouring Poland.
“You never knew when (the train) comes or if you will be able to get on it,” said Olena. “Some trains, they just passed by with the injured soldiers who were forwarded to the hospital. So we came there and we waited for the announcement. The announcement is 10 minutes before the departure, so you should be always ready.”
With approximately 1,200 people in line at the station, wait times were averaging 24 hours. While Olena, Teliana and Tymofii managed to board a train only four hours after arriving at the station, Olena says the time spent there was tense, as Russian forces had begun targeting train stations and other sites where Ukrainian citizens were gathering.
In an effort to evacuate as many people as possible, train cars were packed, with as many as 350 people per car.
“There was no place to sit, no place to stay,” Olena said. “Women with kids were allowed to have a seat (but) some people were standing for 20 hours. It wasn’t even possible to change the position because it was so tight.”
Olena and Teliana held Tymofii and several other children on their laps throughout the 24-hour journey. Passengers were unable to move, sleep, eat or access a washroom. At night all lights were turned off and cell phone use was prohibited, so as not to draw attention to the train.
Upon safe arrival in Poland, the family took up residence in a Polish citizen’s home, which he opened to Ukrainian refugees.
While Olena and Teliana remain grateful for the support they received in Poland – both from the country’s citizens and government – Olena began searching for a place to settle. She joined a Ukrainian refugee hosting Facebook group, where she connected with her family’s Medicine Hat host. They departed for Canada shortly after.
Since arriving, the family has had time to rest and explore the area with their host. Teliana says, while she deeply misses Ukraine, she is enjoying Medicine Hat. She finds the people friendly and is glad there are many natural spaces. Being in Medicine Hat, has also given the family time to reset following the chaos they endured over the past 100 days.
Olena and Teliana remain composed as they share their story, but Olena admits their experiences have taken a psychological toll. They remain strong, however, for Tymofii’s sake, they’re choosing to focus on positive experiences.
“I always consider this situation not as dreaded tragedy, but as an adventure,” she says. “We don’t choose the time in which we live. So, we should do our best for what I think the world or destiny offers us.
“We’re in a situation where we cannot give, we can be only grateful and appreciate it. To stay kind, to stay positive; it’s the best way to keep on living.”
By sharing their family’s story Olena and Teliana hope to inspire kindness, but also understanding and information about the war in Ukraine.
“It’s very important to stay open to the world,” Olena said. “If we are not to tell, then others won’t have this opportunity to know about it.”
KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News