From Ukraine to the Glebe: Nadiia and Sonia’s story

Sonia (left) and Nadiia, mother and daughter originally from Lutsk, Ukraine, are making a new life in the Glebe.

By Zosia Vanderveen

My mother and I met Nadiia and her daughter Sonia, 21, several months ago, having hired them to help us at home. We slowly became better acquainted and started to hear small bits about their lives and their escape from the war in Ukraine. We understand how hard these two women work, how strong they have had to become. They embody a drive and resilience, a humility that is borne out of struggle. This has been exceptionally clear, despite language barriers and their humble reluctance to boast or vocalize their struggles.

When asked to write this article, we wanted to speak more in depth with them, spend some time understanding what they’ve come from. We met them on a cold evening in their cozy home, complete with a wonderful and bright Christmas tree, warm fairy lights, a puzzle in the works on their table and various items of furniture donated by members of the community. Their experience in the past couple of years is truly a story worthy of being shared.

Imagine needing to leave behind your family, friends, home, your entire world. In 2015, this is exactly what Nadiia did. Leaving behind the city of Lutsk in Ukraine, she travelled to Warsaw, Poland to try to find work, a better life for her and her family. Nadiia had a husband and four kids to support back in Lutsk. Ever the stoic, Nadiaa assured us that her small, one-bedroom apartment was a fine place to live; of course, Sonia doesn’t let her get away with that, admitting for her mother that it was quite an uncomfortable arrangement. Nadiia spent the next five years in Poland, working as a cook.

Last February 24, the lives of Sonia and Nadiia’s family changed forever. Sonia is jolted awake by her roommate’s panic, the ground shaking, dust and pieces of the ceiling falling, the city outside her window in flames. During a continuous bombing attack on Lutsk by Russia, Sonia and her siblings gather at their father’s home and try to get themselves together. That very day, Sonia and one of her brothers, along with his girlfriend, pile into one car with all their things and join the line of cars heading to Poland. No internet, no map – all they had was their mother’s address. Meanwhile, Nadiia watches the news at her apartment in Warsaw, unable to contact her children. Within a day, they are reunited, all crammed into their Nadiia’s apartment. After a couple months in Poland, Sonia and her mother bid goodbye to that life and set out for Canada.

They knew very little about Canada when they came and spoke hardly any English. Sonia spoke about how difficult it was to try to communicate, to get their forms and documents together, having to use Google Translate to speak to people and ask for help. With a look of gratitude, Sonia animatedly told us that they had a connection who helped in finding someone to stay with when they got here. Even though these hosts had their own troubles and busy lives to deal with, they were kind and welcoming.

Initially Sonia didn’t want to stay in Canada, isolated from family and friends. But she and her mom have settled into the effort to get established and adjust to their new lives here. Sonia’s English had come a long way (she would humbly deny it), though slang and colloquialisms are still tricky. She spoke of how the quiet, peaceful, family-oriented atmosphere of the Glebe is reminiscent of where they lived in Ukraine. The two women currently rely on income from cleaning; Sonia has been looking for other work, but it is proving difficult. And despite their struggles, they ask for nothing and do not want to burden other.  The Facebook Buy Nothing Group came through when we asked for help on their behalf, and many items were given. They say thank you to the generous neighbours!

Despite their difficult situation and all they’ve gone through, Sonia and Nadiia were still able to share stories of the kindness of others, of gratitude, of all that people have done to welcome them in their time of need. While theirs is certainly a story of hardship, it is one that leaves room for a lot of hope. As Sonia said, they must now find themselves here and figure out their place in what must feel like another world.

Zosia Vanderveen is a Grade 11 student at Glebe Collegiate Institute.

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