The apartment was empty.
The walls were white, the windows had no curtains, and four donated chairs were set up in the living room for people to sit on.
Despite this, Valentyna Kozachenko went to her kitchen to make coffee and share donated grocery items she had just received from her new guests.
Kozachenko and her 12-year-old son Dmytro fled their hometown of Odessa, a port city in southern Ukraine, after the outbreak of war in late February.
Kozachenko said she was forced to leave behind her eldest son, daughter and five grandchildren, as well as her husband of 35 years.
Although she initially wanted to stay, her husband encouraged her to flee with their youngest son to safety. The two left for Italy, where she speaks the language, to take refuge.
Then one of her work colleagues told her to come to Canada with her, saying that her sister-in-law would help her.
Enter Tatiana Romano, who coordinates efforts to bring her to Montreal. Romano connected Kozachenko with other Montrealers willing to help, offering everything from a roof over his head to furniture and clothing.
And Kozachenko joined Facebook groups that welcomed Ukrainians to Montreal. She made new contacts in the city and arrived in mid-March.
Montreal community network helps Ukrainians
Romano, who moved to Montreal from Moldova in 2006, coordinates some of the efforts to bring Ukrainians to Canada, filling out the necessary paperwork, translating for them and helping them find accommodation.
“She had doubts because she didn’t know anyone in Canada, and she was afraid of being alone, of being without support,” Romano said.
“Then she finally made the decision to come to Montreal.”
Romano also helped coordinate item donations for Ukrainians at the Ukrainian Newcomer Center at Hotel Terrasse Royale in Montreal’s Côte-des-Neiges neighborhood, donating essentials like furniture, diapers and clothing. .
She also introduced Kozachenko to Lisa Blobstein and her husband, Steve Legg, two Montrealers who were looking to help.
“We also have a 12-year-old son. So for us to have someone the same age as our son just knocked on the house,” Blobstein said. “We wanted to do something.”
Blobstein first communicated with Kozachenko via Facebook, using online voice translation apps, as neither spoke the other’s language.
“Even though it’s hard to communicate and we have to use an app, we always find a way to communicate, so language is not a barrier to helping people,” Blobstein said.
The family donated a large sofa, a furniture box, clothes, games for Dmytro to play and a guitar, as they discovered his passion for music.
Kozachenko says she feels she already has family here.
“People ask her what she might need. She can’t believe the kindness of the Canadians,” Romano said, translating for Kozachenko.
She says she has everything she needs. A Ukrainian family in Montreal offered him an apartment and offered him two months’ rent. She said she was grateful to them for having food in the refrigerator and a bed to sleep in at night.
“She is now looking forward to starting her life here. She is looking forward to starting a job. She hopes to be able to work in her profession as a teacher for children with special needs,” Romano said.
Kozachenko said she will also work to learn French, to give back to the Montreal community that took in her and her son.
In the meantime, she has also found a school and music lessons for her son, so he can practice what he loves.
Speaking through Romano, she said she hopes one day there will be safe skies over Ukraine, so her husband can join her here and Dmytro can one day revisit his home country.