Ukrainian mother heartbroken but hopeful after daughter turns two in St. John's

·2 min read

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — A Ukrainian mother newly arrived in Newfoundland and Labrador says her country's Independence Day was heartbreaking but hopeful for her and her family.

Far from her friends and family in Ukraine, Anastasiia Martynenko said Thursday from St. John's that the day was marked by homesickness and loneliness. And as news broke that Russia had attacked her hometown in Ukraine, she said the day also brought grief.

But Ukrainian Independence Day — Aug. 24 — is also her youngest daughter Yesenia's birthday. And when her daughter was born, Martynenko made a promise to her that she would always be free.

Martynenko said that watching Yesenia blow out birthday candles in a new country, free from Russian attacks, felt like that promise was coming true.

"I came to Canada for my children," she said in an interview. "This country welcomed my family and we have so much thanks to the Canadian government, Canada and its amazing people. The help we've received gives me big hope for a future for my children."

Martynenko arrived in St. John's on June 14 with her husband and four kids. They came on a plane that was chartered by the Newfoundland and Labrador government — one of two flights arranged by the government in an effort to help Ukrainians fleeing the war resettle in Canada's easternmost province.

Martynenko and her family have since found a place to live in St. John's, and even a vehicle. She said she's now looking for work.

Ukrainian Independence Day commemorates the adoption on Aug. 24, 1991, of the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine, which established the country as a sovereign state following the collapse of the Soviet Union. This year, the day fell on the six-month anniversary of Russia's ongoing invasion.

And the violence did not let up for the holiday: Russian forces launched rockets on a train station in the town of Chaplyne, killing at least 25 people. The Russian army on Wednesday also shelled Kryvyi Rih, Martynenko's hometown, she said.

"It was very difficult for me," Martynenko said, audibly emotional. "It has broken my heart."

She said it was also hard to spend Independence Day — and Yesenia's birthday — alone with just her immediate family. Her children haven't made friends yet, she said, and there was nobody to invite to the festivities.

Still, Martynenko said she has faith that friends will come, and that she and her family will build a good life in Newfoundland. She said she also has faith that someday soon, it will be safe to celebrate Ukrainian Independence Day in Ukraine.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2022.

— With files from The Associated Press.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press