Seeing the tragedy and turmoil of the war in Ukraine unfold almost 9,000 kilometres away simply became too much to bear for Anne-Marie Smith.
“Watching the news, I just couldn’t handle it anymore,” Smith said. “I have absolutely no connection to Ukraine but I felt I had do something, so I signed up with many websites to try and sponsor a family in early March. Fortunately, there are people from all over the world who want to help.”
After researching a number of options, Smith settled on Transport a Sister, a charitable organization on Facebook that donates air miles collected from people all over the world who want to help with getting families out of Ukraine.
That resulted in Smith and her family opening their hearts and the door of their Sooke River Road home to Nataliia Nadzelska her children, Sophiia, 13, and Andrii, 8. The family lived in the Vinnytsia region of Ukraine before the war with Russia began on Feb. 24.
“War is a terrible thing, it becomes ruthless both to enemies and itself,” Nadzelskaz wrote in a journal she began on that first fateful night that a friend has translated into English.
“At first you perceive information as if everything is happening in a Hollywood movie, but not with you. You live, you breathe but you no longer control your life. War dictates the rules.”
The entries in the journal continue from the painful decision to leave her husband, Alexander, behind for the sake of their family in the first days of the conflict, to the unfathomable hoops and hurdles she had to jump through just to cross the border on foot into Romania.
Days blurred together and the children got sick, but Nadzelska continued her efforts to find safe haven, burdened by the fact that no one can predict when she will be reunited with her husband.
“The news reads that Canada invites, simplifies entry rules for Ukrainians and, most importantly gives permission to work, not refugee status,” she wrote at the beginning of March, unaware of the bureaucracy and rolls of red tape that lay ahead before she had any success.
“On March 19, at 11:32, I wrote to Anne-Marie Smith and it changed my life,” she wrote. “I will definitely be grateful for this for the rest of my life.”
The home stretch of the harrowing ordeal finally arrived once they boarded a flight from Romania to Rome on April 18, thanks again to the generosity of complete strangers.
Nadzelska is still overwhelmed by the efforts of Peter Denys, a man who met them at the airport in Rome.
“He came to Rome from Quebec for us with a good smile and a whole suitcase of gifts, accompanied and supported us, helped me every minute, and the road was no longer so terrible,” she wrote on that life-changing day.
Those feelings were reinforced when Smith’s husband, Elden, picked up the family in Vancouver for the trip to Sooke “with flowers and a sincere smile.”
“Welcome home, you are safe,” Anne-Marie greeted them with when she opened the door. “Tears of joy and a sense of comfort, a lot of gifts for everyone, a sense of gratitude overflows,” Nadzelska wrote on April 20.
“As a mother with children the same age, I can’t comprehend what she’s going through,” Smith said. “I can never complain about anything trivial anymore.”
Smith is extremely grateful for the way the community has stepped in with support, often from complete strangers showing up at the door with cash in envelopes.
“It reinforces what a caring community Sooke is, and I’m so humbled by what people I’ve connected with are doing to help,” Smith said.
“Our family has the space, but the help with food and expenses is greatly appreciated. Elden and I are in the process of helping Nataliia’s friend and her daughter in the same way. I don’t know when they’ll arrive, but they’re living through air raids every day, so how do you say no?”
Nadzelska started full-time work at QF Foods last week.
“I need to find a home and support my family,” she explained in English which is rapidly improving every day.
She spends her free time trying to get her children into school and staying in constant touch with her husband and family back in Ukraine through FaceTime.
Her cousin, Dmitry, who spent four days recovering from shrapnel wounds, was back on the front lines the day he was released from hospital.
“My family is my life,” she said. “My mother and husband have missiles flying over their home every day and I worry about Dmitry and his wife and 10-month-old daughter. It’s so hard to be here knowing that every day people and children are dying. I could never imagine being in a situation like this. It’s so difficult when the future of your family is so uncertain, when your children’s future is in your hands.”
If you would like to offer support, contact Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also help by purchasing her daughter Sophiia’s artwork, which she is selling through her first-ever Facebook post to raise money so she and her brother can buy a phone and tablet to stay connected with loved ones back home.
Contact Smith at email@example.com for more information.