Two more Ukrainian families call Island home, plan to stay

LIttle Current is boasting two new families. Back row, left, are Vera Kuminov, Serbian rescue dog Alicia and Leon, seated on couch are Yuliia Donskova and her daughter Yeva and Yuliia Zelenko with her son Tymofii. photo by Michael Erskine

LITTLE CURRENT—The laughter of two small children playing in the next room could be heard as The Expositor sat down with two of Little Current’s newest residents, Yuliia Zelenko and Yuliia Donskova, two young mothers whose harrowing journey from war-torn Ukraine provides a testament to maternal determination to protect their children. Refugee facilitator Vera Kuminov, of Providence Bay and Richmond Hill, joined the conversation as a translator as the two mothers have very little English at the moment.

Ms. Donskova, a daycare nurse in Ukraine, brought her daughter Yeva (8) out of the Donbas region and Ms. Zelenko, a daycare property manager brought her son Tymofii (7) out of the same region. Both mothers worked together at a daycare facility in the Donbas region of Ukraine that cared for 220 children before the war. When the Russians invaded their country and began shelling civilian centres, the two mothers began a journey that saw them have to pick up and flee four times before finally arriving at  safe haven on Manitoulin Island. Their husbands are both fighting against the Russian invaders.

Also joining the conversation is 18-year-old Leon, a teenaged refugee who will be working with Ms. Kuminov at her Providence Bay motel.

The mothers and their children faced a frustrating series of delays and disappointments as they sought refuge from the war. They spent the month of March sheltering in nearby Poland, awaiting visas to travel to Canada. What was supposed to be an expedited process of a week turned into more than a month and a half of nail-biting worry and anxiety. Ms. Zelenko and Ms. Donskova had to postpone their trips and cancel their airplane tickets twice due to the delays—but the critical travel papers finally arrived.

Luckily, the pair were also able to contact Vera Kuminov of Providence Bay on April 5 and suddenly the mothers’ path to safety with their children became much smoother. Still, travelling to a foreign land where they do not even speak the language took an immense leap of faith, especially as they were travelling with small children.

While the current conflict in Ukraine has captured the world’s attention, tensions and war have rocked the Donbas region since 2014.

Those requests for assistance have been pouring into Ms. Kuminov’s inbox at a rate of around 10 per day. This poses a challenge to keep up with, but helping is something that she is determined to sustain as long as she can.

“The Expositor and the story they did about what I am doing has been a great help,” she said. “I have to prove to people that I am not some kind of human trafficker.” Sadly, that highlights a real issue. During times of great crisis, there are those who prey on the desperate.

Currently, the two mothers have found work cleaning homes, something that does not require a lot of linguistic fluency, but both are eager to hone their language skills. Ms. Donskova is determined to improve her English and to qualify her nursing credentials in Ontario so that she can resume her career, while Ms. Zelenko is also working on learning English in order to advance.

Both mothers intend to remain in Canada, whatever transpires in Ukraine. “It will take many years to rebuild Ukraine after this war,” said Ms. Kuminov, translating for the pair. “They want to bring their husbands here when this is all over.”

Both Ms. Zelenko and Ms. Donskova expressed their gratitude for the warm welcome they have received in Canada and on Manitoulin Island. “The people are so warm and kind,” they said through Ms. Kuminov.

“People have opened their hearts to them,” translated Ms. Kuminov. “They too have their hearts open and want to be able to give back.” Both mothers made it clear they wish to build productive and happy homes in which to raise their children. But for now, they will each have to do so without the children’s fathers. Currently, men of fighting age are not permitted to leave the country.

Their children are currently not in school. “Ukrainian school ends at the end of May,” explained Ms. Kuminov. It was felt that it would be less traumatizing to the children to not put them into school where they don’t speak the language, just for a month. Instead, the children will have a few months to pick up the language before attending classes. Children tend to pick up languages very quickly.

Tymofii is a typically boisterous seven-year-old boy, but eight-year-old Yeva seems a little more reserved. Both appear little worse for wear after settling in for a few days in Little Current.

Leon, the 18-year-old young man (no relation to the young mothers), hopes to pursue a career as a software engineer—the very occupation of Ms. Kuminov. “We will need to raise funds for his schooling,” said Ms. Kuminov, “but for now he is working and learning English.” Leon also needs to obtain a student visa in order to start his studies here in Canada.

Ms. Donskova enjoys cooking as a pastime, while her friend Ms. Zelenko likes to make jewellery in her spare time, bracelets, and cloth children’s books. Ms. Donskova makes baskets from paper. (Something The Expositor can supply in fair quantity.)

“We would like to thank Olga and Greg Tyrovski and Olga Hanina for hosting the people when they arrived in Toronto,” said Ms. Kuminov. “They helped them do all the paperwork, and Koba for picking them up at the airport and driving them to Manitoulin, as well as Mary Collins, Malene, Courtney Rae, Betty and John Szewczyk for hosting them on Manitoulin. We also want to thank Travis Dewer, Mike White Plumbing, Henderson Electric and Russ Hendricks for fixing up the trailer and making it comfortable for Leon, as well as the Dewar family, Teresa Rhinesa, Jan McQuay, Lori McAnsh and Dennis Fowler for donating money and other stuff.”

Ms. Kuminov was effusive in her gratitude and admiration of the generosity of Manitoulin Island residents towards the refugee families. “I even had people coming and leaving money anonymously at the motel,” she said. “Thank you, and if I haven’t mentioned someone, I am truly sorry. It takes a village, they say. I wouldn’t be able to help anyone without all these people and I am grateful to this amazing community.”

Not to be left out is Alicia, a year-old rescue pup who has her own story of luck and refuge. “She is a rescue from Serbia,” said Ms. Kuminov. “She was lucky to be able to come to Canada, once the war broke out no more rescue dogs were able to fly out.”

Donations to the BIA Canada Day live auction for Ukraine taking place in Little Current are still being accepted through The Expositor.