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From war-torn Ukraine to peaceful Penticton: More host families needed

Two families grateful for new-found safety and host family who took them in
Two families fled war torn Ukraine and now live with a host family in Penticton, settling in and celebrating their new safe living. (Submitted)

Two cousins and their children had to leave behind everything they knew and loved in Ukraine to find safety for their kids in Canada. Now, they are living with a host family in Penticton. Nadiia Synystsia shares what life was like when war broke out a year ago and what it took to find their new home in Penticton in the second of a two-part series.

Before fleeing Ukraine and moving to Canada, Nadiia Synystsia was a human resources manager for a company that delivers fuel to homes. She was in charge of many employees. She had bought a beautiful apartment overlooking the river in Kyiv where her happy family of four lived. She had to leave it all for the safety of her children.

Through tears, Synystia said it was extremely difficult to leave.

“I now have a warm house, electricity, peace for my children who can go to school free of danger. These are all things they can’t have right now in Ukraine,” she said. She shares a picture she took with her young cousin in his military gear on March 5, 2022, one month after Russia started a war against Ukraine. He was killed a few months later.

Her friend’s husband is a medic in Ukraine who doesn’t have a vehicle to transport the wounded or the bodies.

February 2023, marked one year since Russia started a war against Ukraine. Despite sanctions and near-universal condemnation of the war — Russia has carried on its attacks and efforts to gain strongholds as Ukraine fights back.

Synystia remembers in October 2022, she started communication with the Facebook administrator of Kelowna Stands with Ukraine and had plane tickets to Vancouver. That’s as far as her plan went to get out of Ukraine.

To even get to Vancouver she had to get everyone’s documents in order, then the families flew from Hungary, then Germany and a few more stops before Vancouver. From there they took an E-bus to Kelowna where their host family had to pick them up in two vehicles.

But wherever Synystia ended up, her cousin and two children had to be living there too. They were a package deal and that’s what she promised her cousin before they fled.

Penticton Needs More Host Families

Dianne MacDonald like so many others watched the TV news in horror when Ukraine was invaded by the Russians.

“My heart just broke. I didn’t have money to send so I thought what can I do to help?” she said.

She had two bedrooms in her home in Penticton so she thought she could offer that. Little did she know she would soon end up with not one but two families. The experience has been life-changing and she feels grateful every day she did, said MacDonald.

She got in touch with the Kelowna Stands with Ukraine Facebook group and said she could host a family, setting the wheels in motion. After a lot of back and forths, soon she would have two families move in.

Synystia shares a bedroom with her three children and her cousin and her son share the other room. They are desperately trying to get her adult son to Canada as well. MacDonald, aka “Canadian gramma” drives the kids to school in the morning and drives them to places they need to get to when the bus can’t take them there, such as English lessons and youth groups.

READ MORE: From war-torn Ukraine to Penticton paper route

Synystia still works for her Ukraine company, however, does so remotely from Penticton but of course, there isn’t nearly the same amount of work to do. What she does get paid, she sends straight back to her military friends in Ukraine. She spends much of her free time shopping and buying safety equipment for them like armour vests, special boots and helmets.

“I have to keep helping,” she said.

But she would like to be more independent and feels bad having to rely on her host family so much. She is trying to get her driver’s license and once she does she has a vehicle she could use.

Synystia sometimes volunteers along with MacDonald at the Salvation Army where the family has been provided food hampers.

It was the Penticton Salvation Army who helped make their first Canadian Christmas so special. The children all received presents of Harry Potter books, scooters, basketballs and beads.

“We love Penticton, our kids love it here,” she said.

Penticton Cares

Synystia is amazed by the caring community of Penticton. They often come home to food or dinners left on the step. When the kids needed snow boots and pants, people were there to provide them.

The church community has also been generous, supplying the families with groceries and running shoes for all the children.

MacDonald has since found out that in the Kelowna and Vernon area, about 20 families from Ukraine arrive per month. But very few people in South Okanagan are hosting.

“We hope more people in Penticton will consider taking in a family from Ukraine,” they both said.

In the meantime, MacDonald’s children set up a GoFundMe called “Ukrainian family far from home” to help with the two families’ needs including paying to get a van running for Synystia to drive. The fundraiser has already brought in $2,000.

If you are interested in hosting a family fleeing Ukraine, get in touch with the Facebook group Kelowna Stands With Ukraine.

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Monique Tamminga

About the Author: Monique Tamminga

Monique brings 20 years of award-winning journalism experience to the role of editor at the Penticton Western News. Of those years, 17 were spent working as a senior reporter and acting editor with the Langley Advance Times.
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