A series of small photographs are attached to the inside stair railings at Nazar Fratsovir and Olha Shcherban’s home in Carnarvon.
There is one of Olha in her wedding dress with her brother. Others are from the couple’s time in Poland, the Czech Republic, and home in Ukraine with family and friends.
The pictures depict other lives as the two settle into a new one. Their stay is being sponsored by Bill and Ginger Kulas.
Nazar and Olha arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport Dec. 13, 2022 and are a little over two months into their incarnation as new Canadians.
“It’s a big change,” says Olha, sipping tea and eating an oatmeal and raisin cookie, courtesy of Ginger. But she adds, “there are people helping us, and it’s easier because we have relatives here. We are happy here.”
“Big family. It’s cool,” adds Nazar.
Nazar is the son of Bill’s distant cousin, Ivan, who remains in Ukraine. When Nazar and Olha expressed an interest in coming to Canada in April 2022, Bill and Ginger discussed the prospect of sponsoring the young couple. It wasn’t much of a discussion. They looked at each other and declared “absolutely.”
With the assistance of MP Jamie Schmale’s office, they began to put the wheels in motion to bring Nazar and Olha to the shores of 12 Mile Lake. One of the big things was finding them a place to live and the couple is now comfortably ensconced in an A-frame just up the road from the Kulas family. The first two weeks leading up to Christmas were busy as they needed social insurance numbers, health cards, a post office box, phones, internet and a bank account.
The young couple had moved for work to the Czech Republic only a month before Russia invaded Ukraine.
Olha recalls her brother, who was living with them at the time, coming in to wake them up with the news. They were in disbelief. They constantly watched the news as their family and friends were still in their home country. They contemplated going back but were told men were being sent to military stations that were woefully short of weapons. They realized sending Nazar into that situation would not be helpful to them or their country.
They speak with family and friends daily and describe the conditions in Ukraine. Olha says, “there is no electricity for the most part of the day and it’s cold.” Nazar says it is now -15C and more snow is falling. Their friends and relatives stock up on water when the power is on. There are food shortages in the shops. Nazar lost his best friend in the war and constantly worries about his dad and 14-year-old brother.
Asked how they cope, Nazar and Olha find each other’s hands on the kitchen table. Bill says they have a strong Orthodox belief, and each other.
They both also have work, Nazar in building and Olha at a bakery. Olha speaks good English and Nazar is learning. Olha is teaching him. He is working with only English speakers all day long. Bill said Nazar’s new language is vastly improved. When they drive and approach big snowbanks, Nazar pronounces the “all clear.”
Ginger said when she first met Bill, his family spoke Ukrainian and she vowed to carry on the culture’s traditions. Bill said they have always kept in touch with family in Ukraine, including sending packages.
However, “there’s never been a face-to-face meeting until Dec. 13 of last year. The last time a family member met face-to-face with a family member from Ukraine was 1913 – 109 years ago.”
From applying for their visa, to being sponsored by Bill and Ginger, Olha said the process went fast for them. And since they had moved countries before, it has not been a huge culture shock. “It was easy to get used to because people are very friendly here and everyone wants to help.”
“Bill and I are just super people,” Ginger chimes in with a laugh, while Nazar and Olha say Bill reminds them of Santa Claus.
“They are the best,” Olha says of Bill and Ginger. “It would not be so easy if they were not here. When you come to another country, new language, all new…”
As for her thoughts on the war, she said the most important thing is her country needs weapons in the fight against Russia.
“Many countries help but there is not much time… it’s hell now in the eastern part of Ukraine.”
Bill said they are all naturally “upset, sad with what Russia is doing to their country, it’s pure evil what’s happening.”
Olha said home is always the best place to be, but they cannot be there now. However, “if there will be prosperity in Ukraine in the next 10 years, maybe we will be able to earn money here and open our own business in Ukraine.”
Bill adds, “help to rebuild the Ukraine.”