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‘It’s really hard’: Ukrainian grandmother lonely but happy family is in Canada

Families divided by war and an ocean endure as conflict continues
The national flag waves as workers install the Ukrainian coat of arms on the shield in the hand of the country’s tallest stature, the Motherland Monument, after the Soviet coat of arms was removed, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023. Ukraine is accelerating efforts to erase the vestiges of centuries of Soviet and Russian influence from the public space amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine by pulling down monuments and renaming hundreds of streets to honor home-grown artists, poets, military chiefs, and independence leaders. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Galyna Danyliuk knew she would miss her daughter and grandsons when they fled to Canada shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, but she felt it was best she stay behind to protect their family home.

The 68-year-old hairdresser lives in Rivne, with a population of 240,000, about 330 kilometres west of the capital of Kyiv.

“It’s been a little bit lonely but I’m in a safe place,” Danyliuk told The Canadian Press through an interpreter.

“I really want to see them, but it’s hard, it’s really hard. I feel like I’m alone. I know they are safe, but right now they are on the other side of the world,” she added.

Danyliuk’s daughter Kateryna Stepanchuk and her two sons, ages 12 and 16, left Ukraine last year, just months after the Russian invasion.

She and her son-in-law Anatolly Stepanchuk remain behind.

“I cannot leave my household and all of this here in Ukraine because my daughter’s husband is left here in Ukraine and he’s doing a job.”

Men between the ages of 18 and 60 were banned from leaving Ukraine after Russia invaded the country. The Ukrainian government is not forcing men to fight, but they must register and remain in the country.

There is a chance of enforced conscription if the violence continues.

“I’m pleased that they are keeping safe and they are in a peaceful and comfortable place,” Danyliuk said of her family in Canada.

Danyliuk’s family is now living in Calgary with her granddaughter.

Anastasiia Stepanchuk has been in Calgary since 2018, where she obtained her doctorate in neuroscience, and now conducts research on dementia and Alzheimer’s at the University of Calgary’s Foothills campus.

She said her family is getting used to life in Canada, but it can be difficult.

“They’ve been adapting remarkably well. However, I’ve been talking to my brothers … and they still miss home a lot,” she said.

“Even my little brother said what if something happens and we’re not there, it would just pain all of us to not be able to do anything.”

Due to its location, Rivne is considered relatively safe, but there have been some rocket attacks. She said her grandmother witnessed one first-hand.

“It was one of the times that the missile hit my hometown … and she was at the market and she was telling me - I saw this huge black thing flying across the sky,” Stepanchuk said.

“All of a sudden, people in the market are running around in panic and she was just like, ‘Well I’m going to go to the store and buy a couple of things because there’s not going to be lines anymore,’” she added with a laugh.

Stepanchuk applauds her grandmother for her resilience and sense of humour, but it was still stressful to hear.

The first few days of the invasion was a particularly rough time as Stepanchuk watched events unfolding. Now she realizes it’s going to be a drawn-out affair and Ukrainians have gone through similar crises in the past as they fought for independence.

“It pains me to see that they will have to rebuild the country from the ruins once it’s over.”

Stepanchuk left home when she was 17 to attend university. Now living in Calgary, she doesn’t rule out a return home if she’s needed.

“I’m not saying Calgary is my home forever or Canada is my home forever. Life is interesting,” she said.

“You never know where you will end up and if I would be most needed back home, I would be happy to come back and do the best I can.”

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