A very special Canada Day for newcomers from Ukraine
Ihor Komirenko’s 11th birthday is one the Ukrainian boy won’t soon forget.
He will be 11 on July 1.stand will celebrate it in a new home and a new country that shares its birthday.
Moreover, his mother is ready to give birth to a baby sister, and her due date is also around Canada Day.
The Komirenkos – Ihor and his parents Igor and Olha – arrived in La Coruña on May 9 after making contact with a local group of volunteers who organized a safe haven for Ukrainians fleeing the war.
The last two months have been a whirlwind of travels, meetings and settling in with Debbie and Peter Osmond.
Using a phone app for translation with The Journal, the Komirenkos said the Osmonds’ generosity and outpouring of community support amazed them.
They didn’t think coming to Canada was an option because Olha, 30, was pregnant when Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February. She couldn’t imagine flying halfway around the world.
The family was temporarily in Austria at the time, having left their home near Lviv in western Ukraine while Igor worked in construction. It is common for Ukrainians to work in Europe under contract, she said.
“We were very lucky. We have been saved from the fears that other Ukrainians have experienced, fears of great economic difficulties and the atomic bomb.
But they could not stay in Austria indefinitely and began to look for a country ready to welcome them.
“Mentally it’s hard,” said Olha Komirenko. “Our families are still in Lviv and there is anxiety. We miss them and I cry.
What convinced her was an online contact with Dr. Cassandra Taylor of Sarnia. A friend had suggested that Canada might be an option and she started looking on Facebook for Canadians willing to help. A London-Middlesex page published information on the needs of the Komirenkos and Olhas in terms of reception and obstetric care.
Dr Taylor, who leads a local volunteer effort to help Ukrainians, said she would help him find a doctor. When the Osmonds invited them to live in La Coruña for a year, the game was done.
“They’re a very special family,” Debbie Osmond said. “We are very happy to help and to be part of the new baby.”
The Komirenkos qualified for the Canada-Ukraine Emergency Travel Authorization Program (CUAET) and had the plane ticket. They’ve only messaged the Osmonds a few times.
“We are usually very optimistic people in life,” said Olha Komirenko. “We’re not afraid to change something, to leave, to take risks and that probably saves us a lot.”
Arrived two months ago, his son Ihor is moving into 5th grade at St. Joseph’s Catholic School. He is a huge football fan and when he saw his new room adorned with football flags, he announced that he never wanted to leave the Osmonds’ house. He already plays for GallaDevs Soccer Club in Sarnia.
Dr. Taylor found an obstetrician for Olha. The baby’s due date was July 1, but it could come sooner.
Olha and Igor, 33, are taking English lessons and he hopes to train to become a truck driver in the company run by Peter Osmond.
“I’ve always dreamed of driving big trucks. Now that dream will probably come true,” he said.
“There are just no words to describe how good people are to us,” his wife said.
As news of the baby’s arrival spread, the house was inundated with donations and gifts. An entire room is now filled, thanks to several local churches, the Knights of Columbus, Bluewater Health staff and many individual donations.
Young Ihor received a scooter, soccer ball, video games and Lego, and his father received a donated bicycle.
“I want to thank everyone who lives here,” Olha said, using the translation app. Many Ukrainians choose to go to larger centers like Toronto, but she recommends smaller communities.
“There are simply no words to describe the help we have received. Also, I want to say that we wouldn’t be able to cope without Debbie and Peter,” she said. “We are very, very grateful and hope to be part of the community.”
About 75 Ukrainians have found a home in Sarnia-Lambton and more will arrive in July.
Volunteer Lisa Matlovich said more hosts are needed. If interested, visit Facebook at Save Ukraine – Sarnia and Lambton County.
As of press time, baby Komirenko was still waiting to make an appearance.