A Chemainus couple with ties to a Ukrainian family from four years ago is doing its part to return the favour of hospitality.
Catherine Murphy and Steve Chadwick, parishioners at St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Nanaimo, are in the process of assisting friends from the Lviv suburb of Vynnyky to stay with them during the war in Ukraine.
They’re currently remodeling their house in Chemainus to accommodate Oksana Pryshlyak and her children Danyla Badun, 9, and Zlatasvita Badun, 2 1/2. Oksana’s husband Roman Badun is staying behind at the family home during the hostilities.
“I reached out to Roman that perhaps Oksana and the kids could apply for a visitor visa and stay with us for a while,” explained Chadwick.
The family was only too happy to accept and the three will be in Chemainus soon.
Murphy and Chadwick immediately went to work to make sure everything was in order. Oksana speaks no English and Murphy doesn’t know any Ukrainian so it’s been a bit of a task to communicate.
“I’ve had to help her with the visa applications,” said Murphy. “With the nine-hour time difference it’s been a bit of a challenge, too, but we’ve done it.”
There’s been an added connection to the unfolding crisis in Ukraine for Chadwick.
“My mother’s family was originally from Ukraine,” he indicated.
The connection to this family goes back to 2018, the same year Murphy and Chadwick eventually moved to Chemainus from Salt Spring Island.
Chadwick flew to western Ukraine to attend a seminar hosted by the psychology department at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. He brought a Ukrainian expat friend with him to act as interpreter. Although they did their research ahead of time, they discovered none of their credit cards or bank cards worked in Ukraine.
The interpreter contacted Roman Badun, an old school friend, and his wife Oksana and they kindly opened their home to the two travelers.
Chadwick returned to the seminar again in 2019, traveling with his wife Murphy and son Tyrone. The two families met again and continued a friendship through Facebook.
Earlier this year, amid reports of a Russian military buildup on the Ukrainian border, Chadwick and Murphy invited Oksana and her children to visit them in Canada.
“We could see it coming,” Murphy conceded, taking into account previous Russian actions in Crimea. “We were offering to do for them what they did for Steve back then.”
Before Oksana could get the travel documents ready, Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Oksana, Danylo and Zlatasvita then joined a long caravan of Ukrainians fleeing to Poland, with Roman staying home to fulfill his duty.
It turned out to be a harrowing journey for the family.
“They had to travel by car to the Polish border,” noted Murphy. “It took four days.”
It’s normally only a few hours to the border.
After arriving in Poland, Oksana and the children were offered shelter at the home of a private citizen while Murphy and Oksana became proficient users of Google Translate to work together on visa applications and other travel requirements.
Chadwick started preparing the house for the extra inhabitants, converting the dining room to an extra bedroom and adding a bathroom. The visa application has been conditionally approved and the family should be flying into Canada in a couple of weeks.
“The first thing they’ll do is rest for the first week, maybe two weeks,” said Chadwick.
“The Canadian government is giving them a lot of the benefits they would give to refugees,” pointed out Murphy. “The overwhelming number of Ukrainians coming here fully intend to return home.”
The Government of Canada has created a new program specific to Ukrainian nationals seeking refuge in Canada by providing extended visitor visas and work permits. Settlement services locally are being provided by the Cowichan Intercultural Society.
“It makes it easier to focus our efforts,” said Murphy.
Young Danylo will be attending Chemainus Elementary School for the rest of the school year when he gets here.
“Her son is very eager to learn English as well,” noted Chadwick.
The whole process has been quite an experience but also rewarding, as Murphy and Chadwick prepare to open their home.
“It’s the right thing to do,” stressed Chadwick.