Wendy Pratt remembers holding back tears at a local grocery store when the mother of a Ukrainian refugee family asked if the price of milk was a good one.
It was a simple moment that made Wendy pause.
“We live here and speak the language, but imagine every life decision that you can think of, from buying milk to getting a driver’s license, to getting kids enrolled in school,” says Pratt. “I looked at her mother-to-mother in that moment and it all really sank in for me.”
Fleeing the country
In late February 2022, Russia began a large-scale military invasion of Ukraine and launched attacks on multiple cities. Millions of people were forced to flee their country.
The Government of Canada unveiled a series of Canada-Ukraine special measures aimed at helping Ukrainians in and outside Canada. Among those measures includes a visitor visa allowing Ukrainian families to find a temporary home in Canada.
Since March 2022, Canada has received more than 559,000 applications for a temporary resident visa. More than 251,000 of those applications have been approved.
The federal government says more than 86,000 Ukrainian citizens and returning Canadian permanent residents of Ukrainian origin have arrived in Canada by land or air since the beginning of 2022.
Of those, the province says more than 4,000 have settled in Alberta.
Back in March 2022, Wendy, the advertising salesperson for airdrielife magazine, and her husband Mike, decided to reach out to St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Calgary to see if they could help a family. They had been watching the situation in Ukraine, and due to Wendy’s Ukrainian background felt a call to help.
“We got a call a couple of weeks later to say they had a family arriving in 12 days if we would take them, and they wanted to do a Zoom call with the family in two hours,” says Wendy. “We didn’t realize until much later that they had just escaped Ukraine and it was 3 a.m. So, this family got up in the middle of the night to speak to us.”
A safe place
Sergey (43), Polina (43) and their two teenage children touched down at YYC Calgary International Airport with plans to stay with the Pratts for eight weeks.
The family lived in the Ukraine city of Mariupol – one of the hardest hit cities in the country – in an apartment now bombed and burned down. For about three months the family was out on the run, before going through Russian occupied Crimea.
They went through 21 Russian checkstops before getting into Georgia and looking at their options.
“We heard a lot of good things about Canada,” Sergey says.
When the family finally arrived in Canada, their life’s possessions fit on a luggage cart.
“They literally left with the shirts on their back and three suitcases. Their entire world was on a luggage cart. I will never forget that,” says Mike.
The Pratts transformed the basement of their Airdrie home into a living space for the family. They purchased plush robes, a basketball pillow for the teenage boy and fluffy pillows and a sparkly lamp for the girl.
“So just seeing a place that was safe, clean and private – it was just a one bedroom basement so the kids were sleeping in the middle of the area. It was nothing super special, but it was a place that was theirs for as long as they were here. They ended up staying three months.”
Proud to be Canadian
Sergey and his family moved into their own apartment in Calgary in September 2022 with the help of the Pratts.
Both Sergey and Polina have found work, and their children are undergoing various assessments to determine their English capabilities and level of education.
Sergey says they don’t know if they will ever return to Ukraine, and haven’t made a decision on whether or not they will pursue permanent residency. They do still have family back home in Ukraine.
“Canada is a very beautiful country! But her main wealth is Canadians. We were very lucky and we got to know the Pratt family,” says Sergey. “[They] helped in solving all the problems: obtaining Canadian documents, finding work, apartments, cars, schools … But the most important thing is that thanks to their sympathy and care, we feel very good in this country and rarely remember what we experienced in Mariupol.”
Mike and Wendy Pratt say they have made a lifelong bond with the family.
“The courage of this family. They came across the other side of the world for the sake of their kids and our country opened our arms to them,” says Mike.
“It really makes you proud to be Canadian.”
For more information or to support Ukranians living in Alberta visit alberta.ca/support-for-ukrainians.
Photo caption: Serhii, Polina, Max and Tanya with the Pratt family hiking in Kananaskis.