A group of Port Robinson residents have banded together to help a Ukrainian family, who have recently fled the war in their home country to settle in Canada.
“All winter long we watched what was going on,” says Port Robinson resident Fran Ledwon, in an interview with ThoroldToday. “It’s just heart-wrenching. I couldn’t imagine what that would be like to have to leave everything behind and start over. I just felt like I had to do something. I had to help.”
Ledwon heard about the family in need from her neighbour June Wolfrath. Wolfrath’s son Daniel is married to a Ukrainian woman, Veronica, and it’s her family the neighbours are trying to help.
The refugee family consists of Veronica’s brother Pasha Kuzmenko, his wife Inna, their three-year-old son Andrew, and their cousin Anastasiia Yavorska.
Pasha has suffered from seizures all his life, making him ineligible to fight in the war with Russia. When it got harder and harder to make ends meet, he knew he had to do something to give his family a better life.
Anastasiia, Pasha’s and Veronica’s cousin, was working two jobs to try and provide for her disabled husband. When the war made it more and more difficult for her to keep her family afloat, she decided to flee to Canada in hopes of providing a better life for her husband back home.
“It was really hard because we had [air raid] sirens all the time,” Anastasiia tells ThoroldToday. “I lived close to military units and I was afraid that they would hit that place. I had to work and every time I had to go downstairs, upstairs, downstairs, upstairs. It was difficult.”
Pasha and his family are from Eastern Ukraine, while Anastasiia lived in the Western part of the country. After meeting up at Anastasiia’s house, the group successfully trekked its way across the border into Poland on March 20.
Once there, they lived in a tiny flat for a month and half while they waited for their visas to be processed. On May 5, the group finally landed in Canada.
Ever since, they’ve been living with Pasha’s sister Veronica in Beamsville. The family has had to start over from scratch. They were only able to bring a few of their possessions to Canada, so their resources are extremely limited right now.
Luckily, Pasha has found a job in a local greenhouse, which is keeping him connected to home. Back in Ukraine, his father owns and operates a greenhouse.
“Greenhouse work is my life, I love,” he says.
The hardest part of the family’s daily life is the constant worry and anxiety about friends and family back home.
“Sometimes you want to take a day off and not watch the news,” says Anastasiia. “But then you think: ‘I have to know everything that’s happening.’ Even before I go to bed I check if they had sirens. When I wake up, I also check.”
Anastasiia hopes that her direct family will eventually join her in Canada, but her parents are hesitant to leave her brother, who is in his early twenties, behind.
“We’ll have to prepare some place for them to come, if they want to come,” she says. “Although my father is confident that everything will be okay and that I’ll come back. He’s optimistic so that’s good. It’s hard but we call each other every day.”
To help the family get a head start on their new Canadian life, Ledwon has banded together with her husband Andrew and four other neighbours on Thorold Avenue. They're putting together a benefit on July 10 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Port Robinson Community Centre.
The day will be extra special because the Kuzmenko family will be celebrating Andrew’s fourth birthday. There will be food and games, with prizes including gift cards and Blue Jays tickets. All proceeds will go toward helping the Ukrainian family get back on their feet.
“This gives us the opportunity to come together as a community and to do something, even if it’s just for one family,” says Ledwon. “It just makes you feel better to feel like you are contributing.”
A bank account has been set up for donations. For more information on how to donate, head over to the event's website.