Ukrainian kids receiving cancer treatment in Canada share their experience

A small playground in Toronto has become a safe haven for a group of Ukrainian children and their mothers.

There is laugher and joy as the kids play on the slide and toss a ball. The great outdoors seems to offer a place of comfort since their arrival in Canada.

“I like nature,” says Ivan, “the forest, lake and river.” The 17-year-old is one of nine children receiving cancer treatment at the Hospital for Sick Children. Many Ukrainian children arrived at the end of March, through a special evacuation program, with their mothers and siblings.

CTV National News met with five of the families, now that they’re feeling settled in Canada.

“I’m grateful to be here,” Invaka said through a translator. She arrived herewith her three sons.

Her son Ruslan had difficulty getting cancer treatment once Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started.

“It was a great fear,” she said. “They couldn’t anticipate what would happen.”

She said being in Canada brings her great joy, and that her boys can make new friends and learn a new language.

Dr. Sarah Alexander, a pediatric oncologist treating one of the Ukrainian patients, says the group is doing well and all medical care is proceeding as planned. But it’s the community support and resiliency of the families that has touched doctors the most.

“I think the highlight is twofold. One is the profound example of the resiliency and ability to navigate complicated things by kids and families,” said Dr. Alexander. “And the community in the hospital and outside the hospital really rallying to support and I think both those things have been amazing things to watch and be part of.”

That community support is made possible from organizations like the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and Megan’s Hug, which focuses on awareness and fundraising for pediatric brain tumour research.

Meagan’s Hug raised more than $90,000 to help support the families and partnered with other groups to help provide housing, food and clothing.

“It warms my heart to see the families settled, to see that they’ve made special friends and their moms have united in a very lonely difficult journey,” said Denise Bebenek, the founder of Meagan’s Hug.

Bebenek has spent time with the families since their arrival, through her own tragic experience of losing her daughter, Bebenek knows firsthand the importance of community support.

“I think the best medicine for these families is love and help and knowing they are not alone.”

The children certainly feel that support, with many speaking positively of their time here so far.

Many are enrolled in school and enjoy attending class.

“I like the subjects,” said Maria, whose brother is receiving cancer treatment. “I have friends at school.”

It’s those new relationship that offer care, compassion and hope to these families. Ivan’s face lit up with excitement as he shared that his math teacher speaks Ukrainian.

When asked about the staff at Sick Kids hospital he said “they work very hard and are friendly.”

Most families say they intend on returning to Ukraine, but for now, are focused on their children’s health and maintaining some sense of normalcy while in Canada. 

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