TRIGGER WARNING: SOME CONTENTS OF THE ARTICLE MAY BE DISTURBING OR UNCOMFORTABLE OR TRIGGERING TO READERS
On July 4th, a free international flight landed in Regina carrying 230 passengers who fled Ukraine from the Russian war.
These Ukrainian people came to Canada looking to settle here permanently or to settle here until the war is over.
Dozens of those passengers came to Moose Jaw and are now working to rebuild their lives.
Moose Jaw resident Olha Masyutkina came here to be with her husband 5-years ago, and after a lengthy planning process and lots of local help, she was able to bring seven of her family members out of Ukraine into Moose Jaw after the war started back on February 24th.
Alasyutrina was able to help migrate her sister, brother-in-law, their young daughter, and her two cousins with their young son and daughter as well.
She says that she had to figure out where her family could stay while they got on their feet because Masyutkina doesn’t have a big enough house to host everyone. Then some local residents came forward offering their houses as host homes for Masyutkina’s family which is where they’re currently living.
Her family had quite the journey coming to Canada.
Masyutkina’s cousin Iryna Levchenko and her daughter Zlata Moskalova are from Kyiv.
For them, the war started at 4 a.m. on February 24th when Russian aggressors dropped the first bombs, commencing the war.
Levchenko and her daughter stayed in Kyiv for one week, hiding and sleeping on a concrete floor underground in a metro center.
From there, they had the opportunity to catch a free train heading west to Slovakia in Europe.
They left with nothing but a small suitcase for both of them and their paperwork.
Levchenko was a bandura player in the national orchestra for Eurovision. Her daughter is a talented violinist, but they both had to leave their instruments and the rest of their lives behind.
“She had a good job, good life, good house, everything. And after the war came, she started to be depressed, crying, thinking about what’s going on and what’s next,” said Masyutkina, who translated for Levchenko.
Levchenko and her daughter stayed in Slovakia for three months picking up random jobs and waiting for the immigration paperwork from Canada.
Now that Levchenko and her daughter are here, she shared that she enjoys Canada, but she plans to move back to her home country once the war is over.
Masyutkina’s other cousin Tetiana Isaieva and her son Maksym Isaieva, as well as her sister Alla Momot and brother-in-law Anatolli Momot and their small daughter, are all from a small town called Nova Kakhovka about 8 hours south of Kyiv and only 3 hours north from the border of Crimea.
Isaieva was a kindergarten teacher. Alla Momot owned a bakery and her husband Anatolli Momot worked as an electrician and other labor jobs.
They all also witnessed bombings on the morning of February 24th.
Once the bombings began, the four of them went to a nearby relative's house and stayed in the basement for roughly six weeks.
During those six weeks, Isaieva explains that Russian soldiers from Crimea took over Nova Kakhovka and surrounding towns destroying almost everything.
After the Russian soldiers occupied the town, they worked to strip the area of all Ukrainian culture.
“They (Russian soldiers) start to say no you’re not Ukrainian, you’re Russian. They put flags up and cut everything. They cut everything from Ukrainian nationality. No Ukrainian TV, money, jobs,” said Masyutkina who translated for Isaieva.
The Russians also cut off Ukrainian phone lines and only gave the residents access to Russian telecom systems and broadcasts.
Masyutkina told a story of a family they knew with two young children who tried to flee Nova Kakhovka as the Russian soldiers came in, but the entire family, including the children were shot and killed before they could escape.
Masyutkina's cousin, her son, sister, brother-in-law, and niece decided and were able to leave Nova Kakhovka when the Russian soldiers began trying to strip them of their Ukrainian nationality.
Isaieva and her son were able to catch a train to Slovakia while the Momots took a train to Poland.
The train ride to Poland wasn’t easy as it took three times the time it would usually take to get there.
“When there’s peace, it’s easy. You can come to Poland by train in just one day. They travelled three days seated in a small train car,” said Masyutkina, translating for the Momots.
They then stayed in Slovakia and Poland for three months waiting for immigration paperwork to Canada.
They also could only leave with a small amount of luggage, but they were able to buy necessities after picking up small jobs in Europe while they were there.
Masyutkina also shared stories about the Russian Army taking prisoners while they invaded Nova Kakhovka and the surrounding towns.
She said that any men with tattoos of Ukrainian flags or symbols would be taken and become war prisoners.
Masyutkina and her family knew a man who was imprisoned because of his tattoos, and she said the Russian aggressors branded his tattoos that represented his Ukrainian nationality.
She shared that even after the branding if the men didn’t comply with letting go of their Ukrainian Culture and accepting Russia, they were killed in the prison.
Due to all of these horrific events, Masyutkina said she’s extremely excited and happy to have most of her family in Moose Jaw with her.
None of her family that is here now ever planned to move to Canada, but they said they are enjoying the city and appreciate the help they’ve received from the locals.
Now, Masyutkina has her sister working with her at Chez Nous Seniors Home in town. Her two cousins are working at the Temple Gardens Hotel, and the children are waiting to go back to school once they all find a permanent place to settle down. Her brother-in-law is currently looking for local labor jobs.