This quarter, we are highlighting the story of one our Language Contest Champions, Luidmila. It’s a story of resilience and the power of human kindness. But as she describes it, it’s a “sad story with a happy ending.”
This is her modest description of her family’s escape from a war-torn city to their continuing journey of finding their place in Canada.
A sad story with a happy ending
Luidmila, her husband, son, and dog, Bonya, lived a happy life in Ukraine. “I had everything in my country. I had an apartment, a garden with a small cabin, a car, a very good job – I was an instructor of information technology, my husband was the main engineer in his company – and my son (in the first grade) was in a very good school,” she said.
Moving was the furthest from their minds. They didn’t really believe that the war would affect them. But they lived in Sumy, which was only about 40 kilometres from the Russian border. It was one of the first cities to be occupied by the Russian army.
“It was so sudden. I have to hold my tears back when I think about it. For two weeks, my son slept in the hallway because he was scared of the attacks and bombs. It was a terrible time and it ruined our lives,” Luidmila recalls.
When the government opened a corridor for civilians to flee, her family quickly decided to travel to Slovakia, more than a thousand kilometres from Sumy. They drove for five days, stopping just a few times for her husband to sleep and rest.
“When we reached Slovakia, we just understood what had happened. We didn’t have a house and enough money because we just left. We understood that we should work. We started to seek countries that were inviting Ukrainian people, and Canada was the most friendly and most helpful country at that time and until now. So we decided to apply for a visa,” Luidmila said.
The kindness of strangers
They hadn’t decided where exactly in Canada to move to, but as luck would have it, Luidmila got a job in Winnipeg. “Cooking is my hobby. I have an Instagram page where I used to post my food. That’s where I got a message from a man who was seeking a cook. Chef George, who owns the Lebanese restaurant Beaurivage Bistro, decided to give me a job and waited for me for two weeks to arrive in Canada,” she said.
She also found their first accommodations online. She connected with a young lady named Lira who invited them to live in her house for free. So the family of four (including Bonya) was welcomed by Lira when they arrived in Winnipeg on April 24, 2022.
Luidmila’s eyes lit up as she talked about the welcome they received. “She gave us everything! Not just her, but her entire family. They are Portuguese and they remembered how people helped them when they arrived here. They helped us with our documents, drove us, gave their time, and explained everything about Winnipeg. They are my family in Canada,” she said.
Lira also helped them find their own place by posting on the Wolseley group on Facebook. It was where their current landlord responded and offered the third floor of a house, with free rent for three months. He then posted about needing some basic household items for the family, to which the Wolseley community responded generously.
“When we came to this apartment, we had everything we needed for living. It was amazing! The Wolseley community gathered stuff for us, even clothes. We are so thankful because we brought only two suitcases, and one of them was filled with my son’s toys,” Luidmila said.
Their new home was also near the restaurant where she worked, and her son’s school. So on any regular day, Luidmila is able to go to work, pick her son up from school on her break, wait for her husband to come home from work, and then go back to work in the evening.
“Like I told you, I have a sad story with an amazing happy end. We are so happy that we stayed in this very friendly community. All the people we met were just so helpful and friendly,” she said.
A sense of belonging
Once settled in their own home, the family sought a church. Every Sunday, they attend services at St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral. “It’s where I can see Ukrainian people and I can speak the Ukrainian language. I consider this church another Canadian family for me,” Luidmila said.
She also understood that speaking English is necessary in her new home, so she started learning with English Online in May. Aside from the good instruction, Luidmila is happy with the program’s flexible schedule. She is able to study in the mornings before picking up her son at school. “I am enjoying my English classes. The classes are amazing, the atmosphere is friendly, and the teachers are very professional,” she said.
She’s particularly excited about learning idioms: “Oh my gosh, I love your idioms so much. I began to understand people, what they said. I write every idiom and try to repeat them at work. I made a note (shows me her notebook). I put this notebook in front of me near the dishes I cook. I try to repeat and memorize,” she said.
A sunny future in Winnipeg
Asked about her future plans, Luidmila said: “I’m sure that I want to stay in Winnipeg. I don’t think I will be moving to another city. I love Winnipeg very much. Now I am making my application for permanent status.”
“In the future, my dream is to work as a teacher or something with computers, because I was an instructor for information technology. I organized distance learning in my country. I know how to work with different apps and make different websites. Maybe in the future. But now, I love my job. I have a very flexible schedule at work. I don’t want to change anything right now.”
Most of all, Luidmila appreciates that this flexibility allows her to prioritize her son’s needs. “I am a mother first. The most important thing for me is for my son to be happy. That’s my start. I think I should make a big step in the future. But I’m very grateful for what I have now,” she said.
“I think I should make a big step in the future. But I’m very grateful for what I have now.”
From a life upended, to a life filled with a series of fortunate events.
This quote came to mind as I was concluding the interview with Luidmila: “Gratitude is one of the most powerful human emotions. Once expressed, it changes attitude, brightens outlook, and broadens our perspective.” This is exactly what her story exemplifies.