Mariia Mamaisur and Andrew Shulgin arrived at the Woolwich Guest House for Ukrainian Families in Transition last Monday. The former Jakobstettel Inn is a resting place for them, the latest leg of a journey that began unexpectedly February 24 when they say they were woken up by the sound of bombs near their home in Kyiv.
“We prepared all our clothes and documents because we [thought we would] leave our house maybe for three days,” said Mamaisur. “We didn’t imagine that we leave our house for so long.”
They went to Shulgin’s parents’ home in a village near Kyiv and stayed there for two weeks, but it wasn’t safe there either, they said.
“We were scared when night is coming,” said Mamaisur.
“Because they make their attacks only at night,” finished Shulgin.
The Russian military also targeted places that people would use to take shelter like cinemas or the metro. “We [didn’t] know where we should run if there is a rocket attack,” said Shulgin.
Mamaisur and Shulgin decided to keep moving. Shulgin says his family decided to stay.
“They don’t want to move on because it is their property for which they work very hard for their entire lives,” Shulgin said. “They don’t know what to do in another place, because all their life [is connected] with Kyiv.”
Mamaisur says her mother remains in a small village outside of Kyiv. She didn’t want to leave because she was afraid of facing a language barrier.
Mamaisur and Shulgin made their way to Poland where they remained for two months. While there, they stayed in a large hostel that housed 300 people. There they worked as volunteers, helping Ukrainians get food, find work, fill out paperwork and other needs.
But Shulgin and Mamaisur didn’t want to stay in Poland, because they feared the Polish were preparing to fight a Russian invasion, and they didn’t want to stay for that. So they looked for sponsored charter flights to Canada.
In the late spring/early summer, Shulgin and Mamaisur made their way to Canada and landed in Halifax. From there, they said they went to Kitchener where they stayed with a host family from Belarus. That family had immigrated to Canada almost 20 years ago.
Back in Kyiv, Shulgin works as a lawyer and an assistant with the Ukrainian Parliament, and Mamaisur works in banking. While here, they want to advocate for Ukrainians’ credentials to be recognized as “counting for something,” in Canada, they say.
Shulgin and Mamaisur are connected with the growing community of people helping out Ukrainians in Waterloo Region, called Waterloo Region Grassroots Response to the Ukrainian Crisis.
Waterloo Region Grassroots Response volunteers are working to create a network and safety net for displaced Ukrainians. Since Ukrainians are being granted work visas, they do not qualify for much of the same settlement help that traditional refugees might receive.
Through this group, Shulgin and Mamaisur applied for the position of in-house coordinators at the Woolwich Guest House in St. Jacobs.
“We wanted someone who is Ukrainian to fill this position,” explained Rosslyn Bentley, the executive director of the Woolwich Community Health Centre, which supports the guest house project.
When they got the job offer, Mamaisur and Shulgin went to St. Jacobs to see the town.
“Even [before seeing] this house we decided we need to take this opportunity and stay here for some time because I think that we will not get any [further] chance to be here. So for us it’s a very good opportunity to live in a nice place and meet a nice and great people who live here,” said Shulgin.
They think the house itself is beautiful and are grateful and excited to live in it.
“This house is like in a movie or a museum,” said Shulgin.
Mamaisur and Shulgin’s duties as the live-in coordinators will include vetting the incoming Ukrainians to see who is the best fit, and finding those families most in need of help to come to the guest house. They will be taking in Ukrainians who have landed in Canada, and also those who are still abroad and need a place to go. They’ll be helping families settle into Canada, by assisting them with tasks like finding jobs, getting social insurance numbers or enrolling their kids in school.
The KW Multicultural Centre is also helping Shulgin and Mamaisur with a dedicated support worker who will help them with their settlement work for their fellow Ukrainians.
The pair is expecting the first family to arrive within a week or two.
Mamaisur and Shulgin’s contract is for one year, the amount of time Woolwich Healthy Communities has been given to operate the home as a guest house for Ukrainians.
Mamaisur and Shulgin have noticed the community’s hard work in preparing the home, and they are grateful. “We see that the community is always thinking how to make this place better,” said Shulgin.
“We appreciate the help of the Woolwich Community,” said Shulgin. “And of all Canada,” added Mamaisur.