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Nicolette and Tom Kovesi held up a blue and yellow poster – the colors of the Ukrainian flag – with the words “Welcome to Canada”.
They were waiting for a plane full of Ukrainian evacuees fleeing the Russian invasion to land at Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport.
The Kovesis said their parents fled Hungary many years ago and were welcomed with open arms by Canadians. They felt it was their duty to pay it forward.
“We are thrilled to have them and to add some light to these dark times,” Tom Kovesi told CityNews on May 29.
On this charter flight from Warsaw, Poland, were Anastasiia Varchenko and Svitlana Ivanysko. The two young Ukrainian women were moments away from meeting the host family that would change their lives forever.
Seven months later, Varchenko and Ivanysko reflect on life with the Kovesis and in Canada.
“They showed us how people can be so nice and help people,” Ivanysko said. “And it inspired me to do the same and be better. ‘I don’t know how to say thank you because it’s more than words.’
“We are really grateful to Nicolette and Tom and to the Canadians,” added Varchenko. “It’s a really cool country. It’s like another planet. Everyone is so nice, so friendly. We are like a family.
The Kovesis shared this feeling of being a family.
“We expanded our family,” Nicolette said. “I think we will have a permanent relationship, whether you stay here or return to Ukraine. I will now have family in Ukraine, in Kyiv… and I think you will feel the same.
“I’m glad we helped them, but they’ve benefited our lives so much,” Tom said. “They gave us experiences that we had never had before.”
Varchenko and Ivanysko fled Ukraine together with their friend Tatiana, who was originally supposed to stay with the Kovesis as well. Tatiana ended up staying with friends of the Kovesis who were inspired by them to host Ukrainian evacuees.
Varchenko, 23, and Ivanysko, 24, are lawyers in their home country and work several jobs in Canada to help support their families in Ukraine.
Although they feel relieved for their personal safety and the joy of a new family in Canada, the war in their home country is still in their hearts and minds.
“I left my country, I came to Canada and I was really stressed,” Varchenko said. “But when we arrived I felt relieved because now we are here. It’s so serene here. But still, we are really worried for our parents, for our partners, for our friends.
“Of course, my family in Ukraine, I call them,” Ivanysko said. “I worry about them and it was really hard and heartbreaking to leave them there and all my life. But at the same time, I’m so happy to be in this family and to receive all the warmth and love from ‘them.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February
For Nicolette, welcoming Varchenko and Ivanysko was a lesson in perspective and a constant reminder that the situation in Ukraine is ongoing – and has been since February.
“By living with these girls, we realize the privileges of what we take for granted, like heat, electricity, food, water,” she said. “So when I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is check the news and what’s happening in Ukraine and how we support them.
“We can really laugh. We can really have a good time. We really like looking at the decorations in the suburbs, you know, looking at the lights. And then five minutes later you’re feeling very sad and worried again.
Even though Nicolette likes having Varchenko and Ivanysko around, she knows they’re here because their home country is still extremely dangerous.
“Part of me really hopes they won’t be here next year because that means there will be peace in Ukraine,” she said.
And with their minds still on family and friends back home, Varchenko and Ivanysko are nonetheless looking forward to celebrating their first Canadian Christmas.
“We have already bought our presents. We already know typical Canadian gifts like socks and cards,” Varchenko said with a laugh.
Ukrainian evacuees fleeing the war, new life in Canada with a host family
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