Anya Zakharenkova recalls hearing her mother crying on the phone from Ukraine back in February when the Russian invasion started. Zakharenkova now lives in Halifax, but worked as a hairstylist on Prince Edward Island for years.
Her mother told her that her 91-year-old grandmother, who is blind and in a wheelchair, was too shocked to understand what was going on. The whole family including Zakharenkova's father and aunt sought shelter in a subway tunnel in their hometown of Kharkiv. While there, they found a dog living in a box, so they took him in.
"They were not prepared for any of this [war]. So, it was a big shock and big surprise for everybody," Zakharenkova said.
Now, months later, her family — including the rescue dog — has arrived on P.E.I. and is living at Zakharenkova's house in North Rustico. They are among thousands of Ukrainians who have fled to places in Canada, including P.E.I.
Zakharenkova has returned to the Island from N.S. for a few days to help her family get settled in, and she has been asking for the community's support for things like household items.
"They're very happy to be here," she told CBC's Island Morning.
"They still feel like they're strangers here, so I really need the community to make them feel like home."
'Every day is a little bit better'
The community has already answered her call.
Neighbours and local organizations have been generous, donating items like beds, mattresses and towels, she said.
The fridge at the house is broken, so every day there's someone dropping by to deliver food, and she's been able to raise over $5,000 for the family on GoFundMe, Zakharenkova said.
"Every day is a little bit better."
Her mother likes to garden, her father has been doing paintings and her grandmother loves sitting on the porch enjoying the Island spring.
They are trying to get back to the life they left behind, Zakharenkova said, but the family is still processing their months-long journey to get to the Island.
"Every day they wake up and they're like, 'It seems like a dream, it doesn't look real.'"
Zakharenkova said when the family fled Ukraine, their properties back home were unlivable. Utilities were cut off because of the war, and loud explosions were heard day and night.
An Islander she knew helped to connect the family to someone in Poland who would take them in. Then, the family started to apply for visas, with free paperwork help from a lawyer in Halifax. They got the dog vaccinated and prepared his documents.
Just days before they got on the plane, her grandmother's visa got cancelled, but that got sorted out thanks to the Halifax lawyer, she said.
Zakharenkova said she was surprised when she picked up her family when they arrived in Halifax.
"They had nothing, but I didn't expect to see [them with] like a little backpack and a grocery bag with them. They really came with, like, dog food and some medicine for granny," said Zakharenkova.
'Part of this Canadian life"
The family was in Halifax for two months before moving to her property in North Rustico.
The family is working to get the house back in good shape. Pipes are clogged and need repair. The fridge is broken so they're asking around in the community to see if anyone is selling a used one.
Zakharenkova will be leaving for Halifax next week. She said her father-in-law who's still living on P.E.I. can help the family and drive them to town if they need anything.
They've been reaching out to other Ukrainians on the Island, and they will soon contact the Immigrant and Refugee Services Association (IRSA) of P.E.I. to take English lessons.
"I knew they were talking every day just saying like, 'We need to speak English.' And I think they want to do something or do maybe some volunteer and get in the community or maybe have some part-time jobs," she said.
"I feel like they want to be part of this, you know, Canadian life."