'It was never a hesitation for us to help': Kitchener family prepares to house Ukrainian family

A Ukrainian family fleeing the war in their country will soon be welcomed in Kitchener, as a local family prepares to open their home to host them.

Shaunna Mckenzie contacted the Ukrainian Canadian Congress looking for a way to help now that her children are grown up and out of the house.

Fleeing a war-torn country is not a foreign experience for her family. Mckenzie’s grandfather was captured by Nazis in Holland during the Second World War. He eventually escaped and was forced to hide until it was over, all while helping other families find housing.

Mckenzie recited a passage from the book her grandfather wrote.

‘At least 25 families needed shelter in and around our village, I was the man who had to take care of things,” it reads.

“My sweet little grandfather used to say, ‘When you’ve been given much, much is expected.’ So it was never a hesitation for us to help,” Mckenzie said, through tears.

With a Ukrainian family expected to arrive at the Mckenzie's home in the coming weeks, she turned to a Facebook community group to help prepare. She got an overwhelming response of people offering up clothes, furniture and toys.

“My seconds request was the language. I do not speak Ukrainian and one gentleman responded right away and said he speaks Ukrainian and Russian,” said Mckenzie.

That man is named Alex, a Ukrainian-Canadian who also lives in Kitchener. He offered to go with Mckenzie to greet the family as soon as they touch down.

“If I saw them at the airport, I’d tell them ‘laskavo prosymo,’ that’s a welcome message basically. Welcome to Canada,” Alex said.

Alex’s own welcome to the country came 22 years ago. But his family remains in Ukraine and they are now unable to get out.

“Being here and being unable to really help them or even get there to see them, it’s insane,” he said.

So Alex jumped at the chance to help another family get settled.

“I remember the amount of questions I had initially. We had to figure out a lot of things by ourselves, we didn’t have many friends here,” Alex said, recalling his experience when he first came to Canada.

The Ukrainian family that’s set to arrive later this month will not only start off with friends, but an entirely new family waiting for them.

“I really hope that we can eventually be sitting around that table with another new family that becomes our family,” said Mckenzie.

She was informed Sunday evening that she and her husband have been connected with a family of six who have made it out of Ukraine, and are currently in transit in France.

The family consists of a mother, father, four-year-old, two-year-old and two-month-old twins.

Both families will meet virtually on Tuesday over Zoom to look at next steps.