A Kelowna woman with a friend in Ukraine is hoping others will read her story and be moved to help those trying to escape the Russian invasion.
Diana Hillard met Oksana Tomun through Medical Mercy Canada (MMC), a charitable organization operated by Hillard’s friend, Dr. Donna Taylor. Tomun did translation work for MMC when the group would visit Ukraine. Capital News spoke with Tomun via a video call from her home in Ternopil, which is 472 kilometres west of Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv. She is helping refugees who are fleeing from Russian soldiers, tanks, and bombs.
“It’s very difficult because it’s under constant stress and always in fear for life,” said Tomun. “Especially when we hear the sirens. My city hasn’t been bombarded yet. I hope it won’t.”
Ternopil and other Western Ukraine cities are accepting refugees. Many are staying in Ternopil, but most are moving on to other countries such as Poland.
“Different places for them to spend the night, to freshen up,” said Tomun. “The school where my kids go to organized shelter for them so as soon as I got the message I went to the store and bought some food and supplies, and I saw already a lot of people coming to pitch in.”
Tomun said she has never seen people unite so much to help, and added the emotions are overwhelming.
“I want to cry,” she said. “It’s difficult, and I wish it was under different circumstances. I didn’t know people can pull together so much.”
Amid the uplifting scenes of neighbours helping neighbours, Tomun added she has heard horror stories from refugees escaping on overcrowded busses and trains.
“I heard stories where they (Russian soldiers) would shoot at the buses,” she said. “They killed people in the bus. They don’t let people go. I don’t know even why it’s happening. There’s no reason for that.”
Tomun becomes agitated when the name of Vladimir Putin comes up.
“He’s lying to everybody,” she said. “He has brainwashed people in his country for 20 years that Ukrainians hate Russians and now he tries to do the same with the world. They said they didn’t attack Ukraine, but what are they doing here? They bombed a children’s hospital and a maternity hospital. Who would do something like that?”
Asked if the rest of the world, including the U.N. and NATO, are doing enough to help, Tomun said she felt the whole world is united with Ukraine.
“For the first time in history, so united like that. I understand why NATO doesn’t want to close our sky, though I hope for an exception. The point is, it’s not even a conflict, it’s just one-sided terror on innocent people.”
Tomun, who has relatives in Calgary, has two children. A girl, seven, and a boy, nine and because of the invasion, they cannot attend school. She added they don’t fully understand what is happening.
“Because we don’t have active fighting here right now, we talk about it but I don’t want to scare them too much because I think if somebody lives through war, it’s hard to come back from that.”
Her husband has joined the Territorial Defence, which patrols Ternopil and will help defend the city if it comes under attack. Because of his duties, she and her children have not seen him for days.
“He said ‘I’m going’ the first day (of the invasion), although he doesn’t have any experience with weapons or anything,” said Tomun. “My husband never thought of leaving. For me, I thought about leaving temporarily with the children, but my passport is expired. If it gets very bad here, probably we’ll have to leave to one of the bordering countries.”
Despite the fear she feels when an air-raid siren goes off, and the uncertainty of whether her husband might end up fighting on the front lines, Tomun has found moments to laugh.
“There are some funny stories circling around definitely,” she said. “Like the lady who dropped a jar of pickled tomatoes on a drone from a balcony. Then she went outside and stepped on it. Then there were (others) who stole a tank.”
Though the war is only a few hundred kilometres from her door, and thousands of Ukrainians have been killed and thousands injured, Tomun says her country remains resolute.
“I think he (Putin) will fail anyway. I don’t think it would end well for them.”