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'A safe place for us': Ukrainian couple describes fleeing home, new life in B.C.

A young Ukrainian couple has found safety in Vancouver as nightmares persist of their home country left in ruin by Russia's military invasion.
Daria Dubova and Liubomyr Omelianiuk are seeking new opportunities in Vancouver after fleeing war-torn Ukraine last year.

Twenty-five-year-old Daria Dubova says she’s happy to have found a new home in downtown Vancouver with her 22-year-old boyfriend Liubomyr Omelianiuk — not unlike many their age seeking new opportunities in a big city. 

But when asked what the best part of living in Vancouver is, her response is atypical, if not to the point: “Safety.”

Dubova and Omelianiuk, speaking to Glacier Media in the week leading up to the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, say they’re still adjusting to their new life as the “nightmares” of fleeing their home country endure.

The couple arrived in October with work permits and are not considered refugees. So far, they have been busy with logistical matters such as filing and waiting on paperwork and setting up housing.

With some spare time, the couple has found peaceful moments walking in Stanley Park and along the city’s beaches. And to Dubova’s surprise, they’ve needed snow boots.

“When we were planning our trip here, I just checked weather here, is not snowing. We don’t like cold weather so we decided to go here to B.C., where the climate is more warmer in winter. But when it snowed, I was excited; I said, ‘Oh my God, a lot of snow!’”

Dubova is educated in aviation information technology and Omelianiuk took piloting courses; however, they’re presently looking to see if they can work as photographers — a common passion of theirs. The YMCA community centre in downtown acts as their base camp for social activities and assistance from immigration programs. The support helps offsets the one new thorn in their new lives — Vancouver's cost of living, as their $2,100 monthly rent quickly erodes their savings.

Nevertheless, “We feel this is a safe place for us," said Dubova. "We like Canadian culture and community. Even here at the YMCA, there’s a lot of people who help us,” she said, adding the couple has met new friends who also have come to Vancouver from around the world.

It was last February when Russian bombs started raining down on Ukrainian military targets and soon thereafter civilian infrastructure, such as parks and apartments.

The couple found themselves in Poland at the time, on a short-term work visa, after meeting at an aviation university in the city of Kropnyvsky.

“My mother said, ‘Don’t come home,’” said Dubova, further explaining that the couple made their way to Valencia where Omelianiuk’s mother was living. 

When asked why Omelianiuk did not return to Ukraine to take arms, Dubova quickly interjects: “I don’t want,” she said, turning her eyes to his and reaching her hand out to him.

Omelianiuk said he wanted to fight, and the couple had difficult conversations about what to do over the following five months until their work permits to Canada were accepted.

“He wants to fight for Ukraine, for the people, but I can’t really accept it because I could lose him,” said Dubova, who has a firmer grasp of English than Omelianiuk.

Russia’s assault on Ukraine has not just ripped apart the couple’s families, it has left a trail of personal destruction, they say. For example, Dubova’s friend Andrew enlisted in the Ukrainian army and was killed in airstrikes.

“When I heard the news, I felt horrible,” said Dubova.

Shortly after, news of a friend’s injury further rattled the couple. The friend, said Dubova, was crushed by a wall in his apartment that was blasted by a bomb; he lost a leg.

The couple then learned they may have escaped a more horrible fate, when news came that their now former university was bombed.

A year removed, Dubova now sees more clearly some of the worrying signs of the war that was to come — namely Russian propaganda, which has caused internal strife within the country both before and during the war.

Dubova explained Ukrainian forces and officials are now tasked to gather and arrest pro-Russian civilian informants suspected of outing Ukrainians and strategic places to bomb.

Dubova said her mother has had the unfortunate experience of having friends back in their native Kyrgyzstan call for the deaths of Ukrainians, who they believe to be Nazi sympathizers due to the Russian propaganda that seeded domestic and foreign support for the invasion.

“They send messages, ‘You should die, just die,’ because they are under propaganda,” said Dubova.

In addition to being labelled Nazis, Russian propagandists spread violent messages about the gay population and Americans, said Dubova.

In very stark contrast, “here, people are friendly,” she said.

“Especially Canadians are open to speak and to help. For us, that’s important, speaking to people and support.”

But that support appears to be waning, according to an Angus Reid poll published Feb. 22.

“Half of Canadians (52 per cent) still support Canada providing Ukraine with defensive weapons and gear and intelligence and cybersecurity (50 per cent), but this support has declined significantly since March 2022 — by nine and 11 points, respectively. Two in five (37 per cent) are on board with sending more lethal aid to support Ukraine, however, that too has declined by 11 points since the early days of the war,” stated Angus Reid.

Dubova said she hopes Canadians continue to support Ukraine.

“You should help Ukraine. Right now, there’s a huge wall between Europe and Russian armies. We need to stop Russia, Russian propaganda, because if the world [does not] stop Russia, it will be, I think, a catastrophe,” said Dubova.

The United Nations human rights office stated Feb. 21 that 8,000 non-combatant civilians have been confirmed killed and 13,000 have been confirmed injured, since the invasion; however, “the true number is likely to be more substantial.”

Among those casualties, at least 487 children have been killed and 954 have been injured. 

The UN also estimates nearly 18 million people are in “dire need” of humanitarian assistance, including 14 million who have been displaced from their homes.

Additionally, the UN has documented more than 100 cases of “conflict-related sexual violence” against women along with “hundreds of cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention” by Russian forces.

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