Tatiana Kostour

From Chernobyl to Victoria: a story of Ukrainian immigration

Tatiana Kostour immigrated from Kiev to Canada in 1993 to flee the effects of radiation from the Chernobyl accident.

When Chernobyl hit the city of Pripyat in the Soviet Union in 1986, the fear of being affected by radiation forced hundreds of people in the city and surrounding areas to flee — including Tatiana Kostour.

At the time, Kostour was 20 years old and attending the Kiev Conservatory of Music, which is roughly 100 kilometres from the nuclear explosion that killed 31 people and released radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which spread over most of the Soviet Union and parts of Europe.

She had heard about the disaster in the hours after the explosion, but never thought she would feel the effects of the radiation several kilometres away.

Within months, Kostour said it became very difficult to survive.

Kostour and her then-husband, kept the windows closed at all times so dust couldn’t get into their home, they washed the floors on a daily basis, and constantly had to be cautious of what they ate, as the produce had to come from outside of the polluted area.

“The soil was polluted and people were dying. A lot of people died,” Kostour said.

The radiation became more of a problem when she gave birth to her son. Kostour wouldn’t allow him to play in the sand, fearing how the radiation would affect her son, and often looked for excuses to leave the city to visit her family who lived in western Ukraine.

Eventually, Kostour’s husband got a job at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario and the couple made the diffcult decision to leave their families and jobs behind to start a new life in Canada.

“We just wanted a better life for our son. That was the biggest reason why we decided to apply for immigration,” Kostour said. “It’s a very difficult decision for any human being to pick up their roots and leave.”

After immigrating to Canada in 1993, the biggest challenge for Kostour was the language barrier. While her husband spoke a bit of English, Kostour didn’t know any, so she enroled in English classes at a local multi-cultural centre.

“It was a culture shock for sure. The big shock was that people were driving cars and weren’t walking on the street,” she laughed, adding many people in Kiev used public transit and walked from place to place. “I needed to get back to my world of music — all the cords, all the terminology you have to relearn.”

She immersed herself in the culture of Canada and evenutally, it became home.

Two years ago, after her son moved to San Francisco, Kostour decided to make the jump to Victoria, where she has contineud to build a life for herself. She currently works as a string orchestra conductor at the Victoria Conservatory of Music and Skypes with her family in the Ukraine.

This year, Kostour along with hundreds of other immigrants, are celebrating the 125th anniversay of Ukranian immigration to Canada.

In celebration, Kostour is hosting a concert on Monday, May 30 at 7 p.m. at the Victoria Conservatory of Music (900 Johnson St.) with fellow Ukraine composers for a night of Ukraine music, which she describes as deeply emotional.

“I learned a lot about the people and the culture here, but I cannot completely take away who I (am). I am going to be who I am and who I learned to be. I’m not the same person I was in the Ukraine.” Canada is not one culture, it is multicultural,” Kostour said.

Tickets for the concert are $15 and $10 for students, and can be purchased at vcm.bc.ca or at the door before the concert.