Getting on a plane to come to Fredericton felt "too good to be true" to Shadrach Igogo.
He had been waiting months to come to Fredericton with his son Ivan — and be reunited with his wife, Faith Igogo, and their baby, Viktor — after months of trying to flee the war in Ukraine, facing visa delays and getting separated from his wife while seeking safety in the U.K. with Ivan.
Shadrach said when he first arrived at the airport with two-year-old Ivan, after being separated from Faith and Viktor for five months, it was a "precious moment."
"The goal was to finally be reunited as a family in the place of our dreams, and a place where we can call home," said Shadrach.
He said the last year has been filled with mixed emotions and it's been the most challenging time of his life.
Before last year, Shadrach said he and his family had hoped to move to Canada from Ukraine.
Faith was completing her master's degree in health at the University of New Brunswick online from the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk. She's a pediatrician and had planned to move to Fredericton on her own once the pandemic settled down. The plan was for Shadrach and their son Ivan to join Faith and Viktor eventually.
"And here we are today. We ended the year actually in Canada," said Shadrach.
How did it all start?
In February 2022, Shadrach said as the talk of war in Ukraine got more "heated" in the news, his family struggled with what to do. They bought essentials and filled their car, he said, but it wasn't until he saw smoke outside their condo window that it became real.
Faith was pregnant at the time and they decided to flee to a refugee camp in Romania. They later went to the U.K. because they had applied for a visa for a work trip before the war began. And that was only the beginning of their efforts to try to find safety.
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Since Faith already had submitted a study-permit application to move to Canada, Shadrach said he didn't appy for one for himself and his son until Canada opened a program for Ukrainians affected by the war.
"We didn't think it was going to drag this long," said Shadrach.
But since he was born in Nigeria and not Ukraine, he didn't qualify for the program, so he was refused. But little Ivan did qualify as a Ukrainian citizen, having been born there.
Faith said Shadrach was given the option to apply under her study permit, but she knew they weren't going to get a response before the baby was born, so they made the decision to go back to Ukraine.
She said that some people might see the decision as "foolish," but as tourists in the U.K., they didn't have health care, a problem for Faith because she was pregnant. She also said that if the baby had been born in the U.K., he would get Nigerian citizenship like his parents, not Ukrainian, which would have meant a new application for Canada, extending the process.
In July, Faith gave birth to Viktor in a bomb shelter in the basement of a Ukrainian hospital. After obtaining the baby's birth certificate, with Viktor only five days old, Faith took him and fled to Poland where they stayed in a refugee camp. Ivan and Shadrach returned to the U.K. to keep the boy safe.
Every day they waited to hear about their visa, and Faith said she kept telling herself, "Next week, next week."
"I never had a projection that [it] was going to take up to five months. You know, maybe if I did, I'm not sure if I would have been able to hold on," she said.
Viktor still needed his Ukrainian passport, which is why Faith stayed behind with him. But despite efforts from the refugee camp authorities to get a passport while they were in the Polish camp, Faith made the decision to go back to Ukraine to try to get one.
But she had no luck securing it.
"We're just pleading, 'OK, can you just give us a one-time travel document for this child?'" said Faith.
"But then I understood maybe it's the law. It is what it is. They had to do what they had to do, but that point really broke me."
Eventually, Faith got the one-time travel document from Canada for Viktor.
Days before Christmas, Faith and the baby arrived in Fredericton with Shadrach and Ivan arriving a few days later.
Faith said the university community, the surrounding community and members of the Morning Gate Church stepped up upon the family's arrival.
They're living in a University of New Brunswick apartment which Faith said was empty when they moved in, but within 24 hours, she said the community had filled it with furniture and toys.
They had neighbours coming from the first day offering meals and clothes for the kids, she said.
"There's no other place we'd rather be," said Faith. "It's not just us wanting to be a part of the community, because we want to get, we would love to be in a position someday to be able to give back."