One year after Russia launched a brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainians in British Columbia are trying to settle into a new life while managing fear for their friends and family back home.
An estimated 11,000 Ukrainian refugees have settled in B.C. since the war broke out.
Dozens of them, like Olga Osadets, have found work at Kozak Ukranian Restaurant in Metro Vancouver.
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Osadets fled Odessa with her son in April and started at Kozak as a dishwasher. She’s now an assistant manager, general manager Alex Surinov said, translating for Global News.
“When she flew to Canada, she didn’t know at all like if she going to find a job but the only point in why she chose Canada was because she wants to find a better way for her son to live — to live in peace,” he translated.
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The restaurant is operated by husband and wife Sergiy Kuznietsov and Iryna Karpenko, who opened it nearly a decade ago after immigrating in 2012.
Since the war started, the pair have hired 42 Ukrainian refugees, and keep a list of others for when positions open.
“Everything from dishes to manager. Every imaginable role in the restaurant industry, you name it, you have a team member from Ukraine,” Kuznietsov said.
“They obviously struggled because of what they witnessed or what happened to their relatives. At the same time, you have relatives in Ukraine as well … emotionally its difficult, you learn how to work with your emotions, how to work with your mental health, how to help others to go through difficult times.”
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Global News visited Kozak just days after the war broke out, as locals packed the business to show support and help fundraise for humanitarian aid — but Karpenko was wracked with anxiety over family members still in Ukraine.
The invasion began on her mother’s birthday, she recalled. She explained how she woke her mom up at 5 a.m. with the horrific news.
“I woke her up screaming, ‘It’s a war,’ and she couldn’t believe it,” she said. “That’s how they found out.”
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Many of Karpenko’s family members remain in the country, though there have been small victories.
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In April she was able to bring her sister and nephew to Vancouver, and she’s since been able to bring her parents, too.
Both her mother and sister are working at different Kozaks locations, while her dad is helping them as a handyman.
“Which is a blessing for me. My sister, my mom, they work together with us,” she said.
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Even so, the war is never far from the couple’s minds.
“Everything changed upside down,” she said.
“For us, whatever we feel, it’s nothing for those who came here, who saw it, and all the ones who are still there.”
And every day brings the threat of fresh trauma.
Osadets said her uncle was killed in action just days before the war hit its one-year mark.
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“He died like just two days ago after going into a hotspot to fight … he was only like 39 years old,” Surinov translated.
For others, the flight to Canada has been marked by new life.
Refugee Anna Chebotar fled to B.C. while she was pregnant, and has already begun to put down new roots.
“I am worried about it’s another country, I don’t have any friends — but now I have some friends, thank God,” she said.
“I want to say very, very thank you for your support.”
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There have been at least 8,000 confirmed civilian deaths in the conflict according to the United Nations human rights office, though this figure is believed to significantly undercount the true death toll.
The British Ministry of Defence has estimated between 40,000 and 60,000 Russian troops have died, while Ukraine claims 9,000 of its own soldiers have lost their lives. Both figures are difficult to verify.
Supporters of Ukraine scheduled a rally outside the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch for 7 p.m. Friday, with a second rally scheduled at Jack Poole Plaza at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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