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Ukrainian families share stories of wartime displacement at Thanksgiving gathering in Maple Ridge

About 100 people attended the traditional turkey dinner
Mary Robson with the Ridge Meadows Ukrainian Welcoming Committee talks to a Ukrainian family at the Thanksgiving dinner including Vutaliy and Victoriya Popok, and their sons Danyil, 9, and Mark, 7. (Colleen Flanagan/The News)

A special Thanksgiving dinner was held Friday afternoon, Sept. 30, for Ukrainian refugees and their host families living in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

About 53 adults and 37 children who fled their homes in Ukraine attended the traditional turkey dinner, along with 10 members of local host families, that was put on by the Ridge Meadows Ukrainian Welcoming Committee in collaboration with Golden Ears United Church.

Mariia Elsayed and her family arrived in Canada six months ago – five of which they have been living in Maple Ridge.

She said the Thanksgiving dinner was amazing and it was nice that they didn’t feel alone at this time of year.

“We feel like the big family sitting at one table and it’s amazing. The food was really great. It’s the first time that I tried a dinner like that,” she said about the meal that included turkey, mashed potatoes, carrots, stuffing, gravy, topped with a dollop of cranberry sauce.

“And also I like the blueberry pie,” Elsayed smiled. “Because I love pies.”

Elsayed and her family fled from a city in central Ukraine called Vinnytsia, deciding to flee before the war began because she felt the situation was getting more and more dangerous in the country.

“It was really difficult. My husband he was in Poland all this time so I took the kids and I came to Poland,” she said, arriving there Dec. 31, 2021, a couple of months before Russia invaded her homeland on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022.

When the war started, Elsayed said, she was already settled enough to help others fleeing her country, including her parents, close friends and their children. She was able to collect clothes and food for those who needed it and she had volunteers from the town she was living in, Gdansk, drive to the border to pick up women from the border who had nowhere to go. The women would be temporarily housed at one of her friend’s homes until she could find them a host family.

However, Elsayed and her husband were still worried that Russia would also invade Poland and started to look for a safe place to live with their two sons who are 12 and three.

“We choose Canada because it’s really quiet and safe place and a lot of nice people here,” she said. They also needed a country where people spoke English.

READ MORE: Ridge Meadows committee supporting refugees from Ukraine

“And it was the dream of my husband to come to Canada,” she said.

They left behind a successful butchering business and ecommerce business and arrived in Canada through a federal program that helps Ukrainians fleeing war – on April 11.

The family had no connections to the country, aside from the ex-wife of an uncle that lived in Toronto.

But people here made them feel welcome and at home.

They found a host family in Burnaby through an online group called Ukrainians Take Shelter who hosted them for one month. And who helped them tremendously, said Elsayed.

Her family is planning to stay in Canada and build a new life, starting from zero.

ALSO: Assistance floods into Ridge Meadows Ukraine welcoming committee

“It’s painful. For the first couple of months I was crying everyday. I was wanting to come back home. Just understanding that I have no home. I can’t go back there and my parents home, sometime,s I have the flashbacks and it’s really hard,” she said.

The city she once lived in has since been bombed three times by Russia. Two of her friends have died.

“It’s really painful that we’ll never have a life like we had before. Our whole world is destroyed,” she said.

Before the dinner, between 3-4 p.m., donations of new and used clothing were distributed to guests, along with household items donated by local manufacturers. Dinner was served at 5 p.m. with a warm welcome delivered by Mary Robson on behalf of the welcoming committee, expressing appreciation that everyone could come together to share the occasion with new friends.

Major Dave MacPherson, executive director of the Maple Ridge Salvation Army said Grace.

“It’s really great, the atmosphere and the people around, it’s really amazing what they do,” said Elsayed of the Ukrainian welcoming committee.

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Andrii Kaushan, from Western Ukraine, and Laura Morgan, of Maple Ridge, who hosts another Ukrainian family, have a lively discussion during Thanksgiving dinner. (Colleen Flanagan/The News)
Mariia Elsayed and her family arrived in Canada six months ago – five of which they have been living in Maple Ridge. (Colleen Flanagan/The News)

Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

I got my start with Black Press Media in 2003 as a photojournalist.
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