From Odesa To Barrhaven: A Ukrainian Family’s Journey To Canada
By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent
It was early in the morning on February 24 when Tetiana Maslova woke up to the sound of missiles outside the window of her Odesa home. The Ukraine native first thought it was the sound of fireworks, but terror quickly kicked in.
She hid under the covers of her bed worried about a war that was just beginning. Tetiana’s husband, Andrey Maslov, was away on business as a marine captain for the Arab Emirates. Time apart was normal for the family of four, but this time it was different. It may have also played a factor in their safety.
Tetiana, Andrey, and their two children, Alex, 20, and Igor, 14, now call Barrhaven home. They came here to seek refuge from a country in the midst of terror.
Andrey was in the middle of a critical work moment when he got a call from his eldest son, who had just arrived in Ottawa to study as a foreign exchange student at Carleton University.
“He said ‘Dad, do you know what is happening? Russians have started an invasion.’ I thought he was joking, but he sent me horrible video and I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Andrey said in an interview with the Barrhaven Independent newspaper. “I was about to lose my consciousness on the bridge, but I didn’t do that because we were in a critical moment and I didn’t want to stress the captain or chief officer who are also from Ukraine.”
Andrey asked his boss for emergency leave, but it was not immediately available. Desperate to reunite with his family after over a month away, he finally met them in Moldova a few weeks later.
Tetiana and their youngest son Igor fled to Moldova as soon as they heard the missiles flying overhead. Their old life with all their belongings now sits untouched in Ukraine.
‘You can imagine the next two weeks were among the worst weeks in my life,” said Andrey. “I was watching the news all the time, talking non stop with my relatives, but thank God I finally got back to Moldova and disappeared as far as we could from the disaster.”
If it were not for being overseas when war broke out, Andrey would have been unable to leave the country. Most Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 must stay in the country in order to fight if needed. Only women and children are allowed to flee. The last time Andrey stepped on Ukrainian soil was January 5, before leaving for a family vacation in Abu Dhabi.
With many family members and friends back home in Ukraine, Andrey feels some guilt not being there to fight. He’s considered going back to enlist, but for now he’s going to do his part from here in Canada.
“I’ve been thinking too much about returning to my country to protect my motherland, but my wife was begging on her knees, crying out of her eyes, saying ‘please don’t do this. You can imagine what’s going to happen. You are going to put the cross on all our futures. At least you can work and support your friends and family.'”
Journey To Canada
After meeting his family in Moldova, located south of Ukraine, Andrey and his family flew to the United States where they had Visas. From there they chose Canada to be close to their eldest son, also believing it’s the safest place they could be.
With only five suitcases in hand, Andrey arrived in Ottawa first to find accommodation for his family. The city already has a struggling rental market, made worse by a lack of time and not having all the required legal documents.
Andrey reached out to Zolo Reality, which has a large database of local rental listings. He was assigned realtor Jacquie Weldon, who immediately hit the ground running trying to find a place for them to rent.
“I found out who he was, what his story was, and that he possibly would not have the required paperwork to find a good rental in Ottawa,” said Weldon. “I took the listings he was interested in and called and begged. Andrey had all sorts of backup documentation and things like that, but he did not have what is normally required for an Ottawa rental like paystubs, a credit report, and that kind of thing because his family took off running overnight.”
Weldon finally found a Landlord who was accommodating and rented Andrey and his family a home in the Stonebridge neighborhood of Barrhaven.
“Andrey was just a normal guy working, supplying for his family, his wife was raising the kids, everybody had jobs, and then the world turned upside down,” she said. “It is terrible.”
After getting the keys, Weldon put a call out on a local realtor Facebook page to see who could help furnish the space. Peggy Blair, who’s also a real estate agent and retired lawyer, used her large social media presence to put the call out on Twitter.
“I wanted to make sure they did not end up with five beds and no chairs, so I started to organize donations, and within about 12 hours, we had enough donations to have the house fully furnished,” she said.
“There was an amazing response from former cabinet ministers, journalists, and single moms who brought them enough prepared meals to last a while; everyone just wanted to help,” added Blair. “They had everything from pots and pans, food, gardening supplies, patio furniture, and bedding.”
For Andrey and his family, the support was incredible. Not only did they find refuge, but a sense of community and new lifelong friends.
“I just opened my garage door and people brought some furniture, some food, everything. It was just unbelievable,” he said. “I didn’t need to buy anything. There are so many Ukrainians who are looking for this support but for me it was more than enough. It’s really amazing. I will never forget this kind of attitude.”
Unlike many other families fleeing Ukraine, Andrey has a job which will help his family get by, and allowing them to rent a place of their own.
Blair, who is also a mystery author, has helped dozens of Ukrainians find host families who will provide accommodations for Canada’s newest residents. Recently, she helped Ukrainian foreign exchange students who were left homeless after the school year ended. Not able to return home, they were sleeping on friends’ couches until she stepped in.
War has ripped apart the lives of Ukrainians for over two months, and signs of peace are still distant.
Before the rockets started firing and military equipment gridlocked streets, Odessa was a quiet Ukrainian port city on the Black Sea. Andrey spent his mornings going for a jog on the seaside, and spent his evenings socializing with neighbours on nearby streets.
“It was a normal and enjoyable life,” he said. “In the summertime we’d go to the beach everyday, and it was really nice and a happy life. But all of a sudden Russia ruined our life.”
The concern of Russia attacking Ukraine has been on high alert since 2014, when ‘The Revolution of Dignity’ started. The protests turned deadly, and resulted in The ousting of then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Russian President Vladamir Putin had hoped Ukrainians would change sides, but if this war has done anything, it’s reunited the country.
“I had many friends — half who were pro Russians and half pro Ukrainians — but now they are all pro Ukrainians,” said Andrey. “They changed sides because our President (Volodymyr Zelenskyy) reunited all nations. Nobody can accept that kind of war against civilians. If you are a human being you will never accept this kind of attitude. It’s unbelievable what’s happening.”
Andrey believes Putin thought he’d be welcomed with open arms when war began, but now over 60 days in, it’s clear the Russian president is more isolated from reality than ever.
“I think Putin has been living with the idea that once they stopped moving forward into Ukraine, that Ukrainians would be waiting for him with bread and salt, the red carpet,” he said. ‘But all of a sudden Ukrainians reunited and changed their attitude towards the Russians, who didn’t expect this kind of resistance. I’m proud to be Ukrainian and that we have this kind of bravery.”
What’s next for Andrey and his family is unclear. They plan to call Barrhaven home for at least the next year. With a life in Ukraine and a new one in Canada, it’s too soon to say where they will settle permanently.
For now they are hoping to help some of their friends and family in Ukraine, but not all want to flee. Andrey’s mother won’t leave her homeland, refusing to leave an apartment she bought only a year ago. It’s a common reaction from many of the older Ukrainians who don’t want to escape from the only place they know.
When war will end is unclear, and until then uncertainty and fear continues to grip Ukrainians. The country remains resilient and steadfast in the fight, not backing down until they win.
But with tens of thousands already dead and entire cities totally destroyed, Ukraine will never be the same.
“Russians took away a piece from my country,” said Andrey. “For retired people who are supposed to enjoy their life, they cannot do that anymore. For the kids who are supposed to grow up and enjoy their happy childhood, they can not do this at the moment. You see these rockets and military jets flying over your heads. It’s just unbelievable. It’s just unacceptable in the 21st century.”