How this Sask. couple is helping families flee Ukraine

Upon hearing the news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, a Prince Albert couple sprang into action and have been working to help Ukrainians any way they can.

“When we phoned someone they were crying. They didn’t have any hope plus the news was dark, 'the Russians are coming, the Russians are here,'" said Stepan Tulchynskyy.

He boarded a plane to Europe just four days after the war broke out, determined to go into Ukraine to lead his parents and wife's parents to safety or out of the country.

He took with him $3,000 worth of supplies purchased from donations, including night-vision goggles. He says he saw the face of war firsthand.

“It’s a look I’ve never seen before - that mask of shock,” said Tulchynskyy.

“It was debilitating to people. They couldn’t eat, they couldn’t drink because they couldn’t even swallow.”

He travelled into the country with a group from Poland who was also going to Ukraine to evacuate family members.

He says Ukraine’s countryside looked like a “big camp” as people were building ground defences.

“People cutting trees, blocking roads, people digging, doing target practice with guns. It was really fast. It was just four or five days after the war started and the whole Ukraine mobilized.”

Tulchynskyy reached his parents in a rural area about 100 kilometeres from Kyiv. He saw missiles flying overhead and bombed areas on his way there.

He says instead his dad, 80, and mother, 76, decided to stay in the house they built many years ago.

"I tried to persuade them. I talked to them. At first, they considered it and slowly they just said 'no' we can’t leave. 'We have goats, we have chickens, we have people that rely on us.'"

Tulchynskyy returned to Canada at the end of March and says he remains worried about his relatives' safety.

MORE REFUGEES COMING TO PRINCE ALBERT

Tulchynskyy’s wife, Olena Sviatenko, is also from Ukraine. She contacted all of her relatives, friends and acquaintances to check on their safety and offer help.

Sviatenko’s friend, who lives 12 kilometres from the Russia-Ukraine border, is taking her up on her offer, and coming to live in Prince Albert with her two girls, aged 11 and 13, while her husband stays in Ukraine to help with the territorial defence. They are travelling with her cousin's wife and son, 11.

“It was very difficult for them to run, they have to cross all of Ukraine while there was bombing,” said Sviatenko.

They first went to Czech Republic but left after three days because there was “no place to stay,” she said.

From there, they made their way to Poland and are waiting to complete biometric identification for temporary immigration to Canada.

Tulchynskyy’s 30-year-old niece is currently making the journey to Prince Albert where she plans to stay for the time being.

“During the war, we’ve met a lot of people. We’re finding relatives we never knew so we’re helping each other,” she said.

When asked if he hopes for peace in Ukraine, Tulchynskyy says he hopes for victory.

“Because half of Ukraine is actually ruined; whole cities are destroyed. It’s unbelievable. It’s ongoing pain,” he said. “There’s no safe place in Ukraine right now, one day they bomb Odesa, one day they bomb Lviv, one day Kyiv. They don’t differentiate between military targets.”

Sviatenko is helping to translate documents and fill out paperwork for Ukrainian people in need. She says being in Canada, it is difficult to watch the war go on and it helps her to help others.

“I’m helping everyone, I’m even helping people I don’t know. I do everything that I can,” she said.

The Prince Albert couple is collecting donations for the two mothers and children.

The couple is also arranging for places for them to live.

They’re consulting with the Saskatchewan branch of the Ukraine Canadian Congress for guidance.

“They are coming with one suitcase so basically they need everything,” said Sviatenko.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has authorized emergency travel for Ukraine citizens to Canada.

IRCC says Ukrainians can stay in Canada as temporary residents for three years. The program streamlines current visa and travel requirements, eliminates most application and processing fees, and offers accelerated, prioritized processing.