Meeting Vira was like catching up with a long-lost friend. After being a consistent winner in our Summer Photo Contest and Pop-Up Quiz in July and August, I started following her on Instagram. I was blown away by her photos – Manitoba’s sprawling fields, lakes, and blue skies are captured so vividly. But my favourite posts are videos of herself doing watercolour paintings in real time. She’s so creative!
I started the interview thinking that she must have been an artist or designer back in her home country. What I learned is that Vira is full of surprises. She graduated with a degree in Thermal Power Engineering in Ukraine, and dreams of working in the field of ecology systems.
The art of logistics
Vira smiled when I told her that I envisioned her as a designer of some sort. She told me that she worked as a Sales Manager for a telecommunications company, handling telecoms supplies. Then, shortly before coming to Canada, she was a Project Manager in Warehouse Logistics.
I expressed my surprise but she said, “Logistics is creative too. You have to think about how you create order in your warehouse. You have to know how to arrange the materials. You have to know if you have enough supplies and the right kind. You have this all in your head,” she said.
“I’ve had a lot of occupations in my life,” she continues. “I am an ecologist. My dream is to create a waste processing or recycling plant. We didn’t have this in Ukraine. People didn’t want to spend money and time for this back home. This is why I didn’t work in my field. Also, right now, I’m a housewife and mother. This means I’m also a doctor, teacher, and a wife,” Vira said.
Creativity does come in many forms! Vira says that it’s her love of learning that has allowed her to shift into many fields. “For me, I like knowing something new. I like to study,” she said. This even extends to learning languages. Aside from being fluent in Ukrainian and Russian, Vira has also studied German. Before coming to Canada, she had been learning English as a hobby. In her spare time, she was using Duolingo an hour a day. Eventually, she studied with a teacher for a year.
Learning with EO
To continue building her skills, Vira enrolled in MOSAIC’s English classes shortly upon arriving in Manitoba. When the program went on summer break in April 2023, she discovered English Online (EO) and enrolled.
“At the start, I didn’t understand how learning with EO worked. Big Blue Button? What does it mean? But after a week, I understood. People were really friendly. The teachers were nice. I really like studying with Blaine, and Nastashya, and sometimes I connect with Pam, and Lori. They are interesting people. They have good pronunciation. When I listen, I understand everything,” Vira shared.
She also likes that classes have a flexible schedule, and that some classes in the day are repeated in the evening. Vira is able to understand the lessons better when she attends these repeat classes. Aside from this, she likes that she gets helpful information. “Topics for classes are about camp for my child, about health, the revenue agency, and other information for newcomers. In my country, I write two words on Google and I get information. But when you live in another country, you don’t know what words to write (to search) and you do not know if it’s the right information. So the topics are really a big help for newcomers,” she added.
“For me, learning with EO is a big opportunity because the classes are free. I spent a lot of money for teachers in my country and know how really expensive an hour with a teacher costs. And I now I’m studying in Canada with Canadian teachers for free,” Vira said.
This is why she takes advantage of learning with EO every chance she gets. And she is starting to reap the fruits of her labour. “I have a neighbor who speaks really quickly. His pronunciation is maybe American. Every time, I speak with him, I never understand. I keep saying, ‘what?’ and he would tell me really slowly. Two days ago, I spoke with him and I understand! I told my husband that maybe I have a higher level of English now,” she says proudly.
“All people help us. When we ask, I also have an answer. Never has people in Manitoba told me I don’t understand you, or your English is bad. They try to understand me and help me. It’s really ‘Friendly Manitoba!’ I’ve met very nice people. It’s really cool.”
A helping, friendly community
Considering that she and her family had been in Manitoba only for a year, she is adjusting to her new home quite well. She attributes this to the help of the Ukrainian community in Winnipeg which has helped her from preparation to settlement.
“We found a Ukrainian Community in Winnipeg channel on Telegram (a social media platform). They talk about how we get our SIN number, our bank account, how we find schools, and other information. We even ask stupid questions sometimes (laughs). And every day, these people answered our stupid questions. They really helped us,” Vira said.
“When we arrived in Manitoba, we knew what to do. We made an appointment with the bank and at Best Western because it is a hub for Ukrainians. We got our health documents and SIN number. We also learned about many services. For example, NEEDS, Inc. has many interesting services and events for our child. This organization works with Ukrainians and helps us every time. For us it’s a big help,” she said.
Vira repeatedly speaks well of the volunteers she has encountered. “All people help us. When we ask, I also have an answer. Never has people in Manitoba told me I don’t understand you, or your English is bad. They try to understand me and help me. It’s really ‘Friendly Manitoba!’ I’ve met very nice people. It’s really cool.”
“From all sides, I think people, government, and organizations, help newcomers start a new life in Canada,” Vira added. She makes special mention of all the resources made for Ukrainians – from their welcome meeting at the airport, the hub at Best Western, a section of the website for Ukrainians from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), as well as information booklets – all of which helped them have a smooth arrival and settlement.
For more information and resources for Ukrainian immigrants, go to the Manitoba 4 Ukraine site.
On to her next career
Right now, Vira is starting to look for jobs. She understands that her first job might not be in her field or at the level she was at back in Ukraine. Even her husband, who was at the top of his career as a telecommunications engineer working for Nokia, had to start fresh when he shifted to the aerospace industry.
This fact has not dampened her enthusiasm because she knows she can learn quickly. “I can start in another field, no problem. I’m ready to go tomorrow!” Vira said.
While job-hunting, Vira continues working on her English language skills. She’s also enjoying exploring Manitoba, and fishing together with her husband and son in Manitoba’s many lakes and rivers. She’s looking forward to practising her English with friendly Manitobans and learning more about Canadian culture. And of course, she’ll continue to create beautiful art in her spare time and posting them on Instagram.