Ukrainian refugee finds home in Mindemoya

John Szewczyk and his wife Betty Bardswich have opened their Mindemoya home to Tetiana (Tanya) Zakharchuk, a Ukrainian refugee. In photo left is John Szewczyk and Tanya Zakharchuk. photo by Betty Bardswich

MINDEMOYA—Welcome to Canada, Tetiana Zakharchuk. Welcome to Mindemoya!

Ms. Zakharchuk, who goes by the name Tanya, is a Ukrainian refugee who arrived at the home of John Szewczyk and Betty Bardswich on April 24 after escaping the war in her country.

And she was barely in the door when she told interpreter Luba Switzer that she was extremely grateful to be in Canada and be safe in a home in Mindemoya.

Ms. Zakharchuk was born in the village of Gaivoron in the Kyiv region in 1960. She ws married to Alexander, who died in 2004, and has a son named Ihor and a grandson named Vlad, who live in Kyiv.

She had her own business in Ukraine, a small market store where she told vegetables, baked goods, cheese and other products such as kobassa. “But the big grocery stores took over,” she told The Expositor, “and little businesses could not compete.”

Ms. Zakharchuk then turned to the growing of fruit. She planted 1,000 apple trees and 300-plus trees and looked after her orchards for 14 years, with her product going to supermarkets and being sold at the fruit farm.

Her next enterprise was to move to Israel, where she cleaned homes as she could earn more money doing this in that country and at times worked up to 60 hours a week.

When her mother died in 2019, Ms. Zakharchuk returned to Urkraine. She volunteered at a Kindergarten and cleaned and helped out a cosmetology clinic during this time.

Then the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. “War started on February 24, and I had a ticket to go back to Israel on the 28th,” Ms. Zakharchuk said. “But I didn’t go. I wasn’t allowed go back to Israel, but I am glad it was illegal because I am happier to be in Canada.”

Ms. Zakharchuk understandably broke down when talking about the Russian invasion but insisted on talking about it so people would know about her experience.

‘On the third or fourth day,” she commented, “bombs hit my apartment parking lot and destroyed seven cars. The windows blew out, and I was thrown to the floor. There was black smoke, and one man on a balcony was injured by shrapnel. I was terrified. I went to the corridors where there were no windows, and to the basement. There was non-stop bombing. They were shooting rockets. Boom. Boom. Boom. There was no way to sleep.”

The brave woman was especially emotional when talking about acts carried out by Russian soldiers. “They killed a pregnant woman,” she said, “and then ripped her baby out. One soldier raped a young pregnant woman and then looked for more women to rape.”

She also talked about the many mass graves where civilians who were killed by the soldiers or who died from the bombings were buried and also about the many Russian soldiers who died at the hands of the Ukrainian forces. “But why are the Russian mothers not asking where their sons are?” she asked.

At this point, Mr. Szewczyk and his sister talked with Ms. Zakharchuk about those Russians on social media who had been asking where their sons, who served on the Russian ship, the Moskva, were. The most important ship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet had been destroyed after two Neptune missiles, fired by the Ukrainians, caused a fire that made the ammunition storage explode.

Three weeks into the Russian war on Ukraine, announcements by the Canadian Ukrainian Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) were heard on television, explaining that Ukrainian Nationals seeking a safe haven could travel to Canada free of charge, thanks to a donation by Air Canada of 100 million Aeroplan points and a grant matching the number of Aeroplan points collected from Canadians by the Shapiro Foundation, Ukrainian Relief Fund and Miles4Migrants.

Ukrainians can apply for a three-year work permit, receive a SIN number, obtain health care under the OHIP program, open a bank accounts and have prescription drug coverage.

When Ms. Zakharchuk heard about the program, she immediately travelled by train to Warsaw in Poland. “It was frightening when trains were loaded with women and babies,” she said. “People were climbing over each other to get on the train. And they would turn off all the lights.”

Once in Warsaw, Ms. Zakharchuk filled out papers and then stayed in a hotel for one month while she waited to be summoned for a flight to Canada. “Then everything fell into place,” she explained. “The good Lord looked after me and brought me right here to Betty and John, where they and Luba welcomed me with open arms.”

Ms. Zakharchuk was eager to talk about the people of different nationalities who helped her on her journey as her plane, delayed due to a bomb threat, reached Pearson Airport in Toronto. She explained that  a man named Kobi from the country of Georgia met her at the airport and drove her to the home of a Jewish family in Toronto, where she stayed while getting her papers. She then found Vera Kuminov of Providence Bay on Facebook. “She helped me with everything, from Toronto to Mindemoya,” Ms. Zakharchuk explained. She went on to say that she was humbled by all the help received and expressed her gratitude to Canada and the CUAET.

This lovely Ukrainian woman has already fallen in love with the Island. Mr. Szewczyk took her on a tour of Providence Bay, then on to Bridal Veil Falls and Gore Bay East Bluff. “All I heard the whole time was wow! Wow! Wow!” he said as she experienced each new spot.

Ms. Zakharchuk is a hardworking woman, a deep cleaner of houses, cottages and offices, an expert pruner of trees and a gardener. She hopes to find as much work as she can manage and already Islanders have stepped up with some small jobs for her. As well, Theresa Rhines of Rockville has stopped by with clothes and chocolate chip cookies.

When asked why he and his wife committed to accepting a Ukrainian refugee, Mr. Szewczyk, of Ukrainian descent, replied that it was the right thing to do. “We had donated, of course,” he said, “but we knew it wasn’t enough. And accepting Tanya was the best thing we could have done. She is a wonderful person, and we are fortunate to have her with us. And best of all, she loves to fish,”  he grinned.