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Ukrainians finding their feet in Thunder Bay, Ont., as Russian invasion nears 4th month

Ukrainians finding their feet in Thunder Bay, Ont., as Russian invasion nears 4th month

Oleksandr Ukhanov’s life is much different than it was six months ago.

The Ukrainian man finds himself in Canada, building a new life in Thunder Bay, Ont., while his wife and children remain overseas as his home country is under siege.

Ukhanov is originally from Ternopil, a city of about 200,000 people in western Ukraine, but had been working in Israel when the Russian invasion of his homeland started earlier this year.

Nearing its fourth month, the war has displaced millions, devastated Ukrainian cities, caused a humanitarian crisis and fuelled insecurity around the world. According to Ottawa, some 43,000 people from Ukraine have arrived by air and nearly 8,400 by land over the past several months, as part of special Canadian government programs.

Though Ukhanov is now safe in Canada, he has friends who remain in Mariupol and Kyiv — cities that have taken heavy hits from the Russian offensive — and knows people in Kyiv who died defending the capital from Russian forces

“I am worried about this. It’s my country. I was born there. My childhood was there.

“My best friends stayed there. It’s terrible.”

‘I had to do something’

As Russian troops made their way across the Ukrainian border, Thunder Bay resident David Walsh was following news footage.

The scenes of destruction, and of Ukrainians leaving their country in search of safety, stuck with him.

“I thought I had to do something and do whatever I could do to help these people,” Walsh said.

Walsh contacted the Thunder Bay Multicultural Association to express interest and availability in opening up his home.

Meanwhile, Ukhanov began exploring pathways to find somewhere he could move to with his family, and sent out messages to a number of settlement agencies. The first response he received was from the Thunder Bay Multicultural Association.

A couple of months later, Walsh’s phone rang with a call telling him that somebody — Ukhanov — was on his way to Thunder Bay.

‘This has been a history lesson’

That first day in northwestern Ontario for Ukhanov in mid-May included a trip to one of the region’s most scenic spots —Kakabeka Falls. In the days that followed, Walsh helped Ukhanov prepare for his new life in Canada, including getting a social insurance number, obtaining medication and finding work.

“I wasn’t used to having anybody live with me, so that was a little different. What I found was just having conversations with Oleksandr, and learning about the history of his world and the culture — it amazed…

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