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Family displaced by Ukraine war puts down roots in Prince George

Maryna and Roman Pokynchereda left behind home they built themselves in Vinnytsia to find safer life in Canada for themselves and their three children

In just one day, on Feb. 24, 2022, the dream Roman Pokynchereda had of living with his family in a house he built with his own hands in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, was shattered.

Huddled together with their neighbours in air-raid shelters, they could hear the bombs and missiles exploding close by, day and night, and that went on for five days before Roman and his wife Maryna decided to pack up a few clothes and leave the city.

“My children were very nervous because we were underground every night,” said Roman.

They thought they would be back home in two weeks, at most.

“We had just finished the house,” said Maryna, “It was like his baby. Seven years from start to finish, but we had to leave because war was coming. It was not our decision.

“If it was just Roman and I we would never have moved. For me, I was scared if we wait too long and the Russians came and we miss this time to move and I could not help my kids.”

The Pokyncheredas crossed into Romania and stayed three days at a hotel that was sheltering Ukrainians before they decided to leave for Bulgaria, where Ukrainian is more commonly spoken, and they stayed for three months. They had a small apartment and enough money for food but it was not a normal life for them. They wanted something better for their kids.

Half a world away in Prince George, Pat and Brenda Bell attended a church bake sale whose proceeds were going to help Ukrainians who wanted to leave their country. The Bells inquired about sponsoring a Ukrainian family to come and live with them, and met Andriy Kuts, who knew the Pokyncheredas, and he gave them their email address.

“That’s why we are here,” said Maryna. “Our family was first - we have a big group from our city here now.”

The Bells gave them a place to live and the Prince George For Ukraine support group stepped up to provide them with clothing and personal items to replace what they had to leave behind back home.

“We came to Canada with five people and one suitcase,” said Roman.

Two of Maryna’s best friends from Vinnystia now live in Prince George. Iryna Derunets came to the city with her husband Vasyl on May 24, 2022 and her childhood friend, Maryna Yukhymchuk also fled the war with her husband Hryhorii and they arrived this year on Feb. 9th with their five children.

Roman and Maryna bought a house last spring in the Pinewood subdivision. Their house is close to the Ukrainian St. George’s Catholic Church where many of the 235 Ukrainians from 84 families displaced by the war now living in Prince George meet regularly on Thursday evenings.

The weekly gatherings are especially helpful for Ukrainian seniors like Roman’s mother Lidiia, where they share a common language and their culture, which helps them adjust to their Canadian surroundings while the war continues in their homeland. Lidiia spent the summer with the Pokyncheredas and went back to Ukraine on Sept. 27 and the Pokyncheredas are hopeful she will be back to live with them soon.

“Her heart was there and she decided to return to understand exactly where she would be better,” said Maryna. “She is doing well now (as far as it is possible in war conditions), but we think that she will soon return to Canada for good.”

Roman, 39, had his own small business in Ukraine and was hired shortly after he arrived in Canada as a finishing carpenter for IQ Builders, while 33-year-old Maryna works as an accountant’s assistant for the Bell’s company, Family Fast Foods Ltd..

“It’s not easy for me to find English work and it’s a dream to have that job,” sad Maryna. “When we made the decision to come we didn’t know who was Pat and Brenda and where we’re going. It was just a family who say, ‘We can help, please come.’

“Pat and Brenda helped us integrate into Canadian society. The help and support they gave us cannot be overestimated. These are incredibly kind and sincere people who became for us another parents and grandparents for our children. I always say that the war took away a huge part of my life, but here I got even more.”

Maryna’s 82-year-old grandmother and her aunt now live in the house in Vinnytsia, and Maryna says it’s unlikely they will go back to it, even if the war ends. They like Prince George and their kids - Masha, 14, Yeva,12, and eight-year-old Pasha - have made a new group of friends. Pasha told his mom he only wants to go back for a summer vacation, not to stay.

“We do not want to return, only with our minds, because we know that there is no future for us and our children, but our hearts will forever remain in the country where we were born,” said Maryna.

“Sometimes when we try to make some plan we cannot do everything perfect, but finding our way here was perfect. We believe it’s God’s will.”