Tetiana Chudiiovych fled Kyiv shortly after the Russian invasion and found safety in Italy with her two children. After almost two months of waiting for visas, the family arrived in Saskatoon this past weekend.
“I had my life in Ukraine but I want to continue my life in Canada. I hope that when the war is over we will turn to Ukraine, to kyiv,” the 39-year-old said.
Chudiiovych said it was a perilous 24-hour journey to escape the city in a small car with her neighbor, her children, her neighbor’s children and their cat.
“There were six people in a car. Just 300 kilometers further on we ran out of fuel and there was no petrol available,” she said. “We were in a field, it was very cold.”
With the help of the police, the family reached western Ukraine before crossing the Hungarian border.
The plan for a week-long stay with her relative in Italy quickly stretched to six weeks as the family waited for their visas.
Chudiiovych had applied for visas for his children as part of the announcement Canada-Ukraine Emergency Travel Authorization (CUAET) on March 18, one day after the program was launched.
As of May 11, 119,111 Ukrainians were waiting to obtain their visa under the CUAET. Between the start of the program and last Wednesday, Canada has received 223,664 applications.
The wait for his visa almost caused Chudiiovych to consider returning to Ukraine after rescheduling his flight to Saskatoon four times.
“I submitted many web forms to Immigration. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada was unable to respond in a timely manner,” she said.
But on May 11, the family got their visas in Vienna and were on their way to Saskatoon three days later.
Chudiiovych received his social insurance number yesterday, but still needs to set up his bank account, phone number and health insurance cards.
“I’m already tired but I’m glad my kids are safe now. I’m not nervous or scared anymore.”
Traveling with pets
Daria Zaporozhets fled Kyiv with her family, two large dogs, four cats and two non-venomous snakes. It took more than nine hours of traffic to cross the city to finally arrive at the station.
“We were traveling in the dark because Russian forces were shooting at our evacuation trains. We finally reached the Polish border,” she said.
“We stood nine hours in the human line at the border with all my pet crates.”
The family of three eventually made it to a refugee camp in Poland where they began their CUAET application.
Six weeks later, their applications were approved.
“I’m so excited, like I’m five years old and it’s Christmas and Santa Claus is coming with this present to come to Canada,” Zaporozhets said.
“I want to live and know that tomorrow I’ll wake up and be alive, and not have to take my whole family to a bomb shelter every three hours. I want to live like a normal human being. “
The next hurdle for the family was traveling to Canada with all their pets.
Ottawa has announced that starting next week, those approved under CUAET will have access to charter flights to Canada.
But Zaporozhets said those with pets cannot access the free flights already available from Poland.
“It’s too expensive and it’s a tough quest for us. It’s over $4,000 for tickets for all of us, and the snakes will come separately in the shipment,” she said.
Zaporozhets said she was even discouraged by a Canadian volunteer from leaving her pets behind, but she thinks her pets are her family too.
The family will arrive in Toronto next week before taking a road trip to Saskatoon.
“I’m either going to try to become a director in Saskatoon or open a bakery, because I’m known for making really delicious cakes.”