WESTLOCK – A family of five fleeing the war in Ukraine will soon find refuge on an acreage in Thorhild, thanks to the generosity of a local doctor and her family.
Yuri and Lilia Vovk and their three children, Rostylslav 10, Viktoria, 3, and six-month-old Volodymyr, from the Lviv region of Ukraine are being sponsored by Dr. Stephanie Frigon of the Associate Medical Clinic in Westlock. The family is expected to arrive in Canada May 20.
Frigon and her husband Derrick Hrycun, whose family is of Ukrainian descent, decided to sponsor a Ukrainian family shortly after the war broke out as thousands of Ukrainian families fled to safety after the Russian invasion began February 24. Many Canadians, including the federal government, have stepped up to help the people of Ukraine.
“We had talked about sponsoring a family when this war first broke out,” said Frigon, noting she and her husband had a vacant home on an acreage in Thorhild, which they moved out of last year. “We would love to house a Ukrainian family there.”
When they arrive in Thorhild, the Vovk’s will settle into a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom 1,800 square foot bungalow. Frigon said they are hoping to have the home fully furnished and provide the family with all the necessities they will need for the next 12 months, including baby items and a vehicle. To help with those efforts, Frigon has set up a Go Fund Me page.
“We’re planning to house this family for a year and that would include the utilities. We are hoping to provide a vehicle for them because it’s on an acreage in Thorhild,” she said, adding they have offered paid employment to both Yuri and Lilia, but with a baby at home Lila is not expected to work, while Yuri will work on the family’s grain farm.
Yuri Vovk will be joining his wife and children in Canada because of a multi-child exception policy, as stated by the Ukrainian government, which allows men to leave the country with their family. All men in Ukraine between the ages of 18 to 60 were expected to fight in the war, however, those with two or more children are now permitted to leave the country with their families.
When the war began, Lilia Vovk and her children fled the area and spent three days at the Poland-Ukraine border in their car, finally reaching their temporary shelter near Krakow, Poland. Her husband Yuri stayed behind. Prior to the war, he worked as a vice chancellor of International Affairs at Drohobych Ivan Franko State Pedagogical University.
New home, new hope
Although it’s been a difficult decision to make, during a very difficult time for them and their families, the Vovk’s are both happy to have a safe place to live, but are feeling a bit overwhelmed with the changes.
“I think it was hard but I’m sure the families understand what their reasons for coming here are,” explained Frigon. “I can see it when I talk to Lilia that she’s conflicted, because she is leaving — she’s leaving her family, she’s leaving her home, their careers, they’re leaving everything. This is a huge leap that they’re making. I think (they’re) excited, but I think there’s mixed emotions,” she added.
With the war raging on and no foreseeable end in sight, the Vovk’s decided that now is the time to leave in hopes of offering their children safety and stability while growing up, and a better life for the family in Canada. It is something Frigon and her husband can understand and relate to as a young family themselves and it’s a reason why the Westlock doctor wanted to help.
“They’ve made a tough decision to leave all of their family behind — their parents are staying, they’re leaving all of them in hopes that they can provide a better life for their kids,” she said. “We have a young family — we have two children under the age of four and when the war first broke out, it was very easy for us to put ourselves in the family’s shoes that were fleeing,” explained Frigon. “Their two young children are the same age as mine, so when we started talking to them it seemed like a very easy fit that they could come over. Hopefully we can establish that community for them.”
In addition to the GoFundMe page, there is also an account at Sobeys in Westlock, called Ukrainian Donations Thorhild, which people can donate to as well. All money raised through the fundraising efforts will go directly towards supporting the family, including covering the costs of food, vehicle costs, technology (cell phones), clothing, baby supplies, toys, cookware and kitchen provisions.
“My hope is that we can at least get them started on that path — getting them a safe place to live with as much support as possible,” said Frigon, noting such things as education, schooling and healthcare needs. “I’d love to be able to have them feel like they have that support from Canadians here and to form friendships and relationships with other families in the area.”