The tired bodies stuck together like magnets. The hugs lasted that little eternity that the reunion at the airport lasts. After a month and a half of agony, Olena Shapovalova was finally able to hug her mother, sister Raisa, husband Igor and five of her nieces who fled Ukraine under the bombs.
No translation was needed for the Ukrainian words whispered in the ear during the hugs: the joy was visible in the closed eyes, the relief palpable. “I don’t know her but it makes me cry,” slipped, moved, an unidentified bystander waiting upon arrival at Montreal’s Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau Airport.
Behind a flag of Ukraine she hung, Olena Shapovalova’s daughter Iana wisely waited three long hours. This little ritual has almost become routine for the 19-year-old, who welcomes her third family at the airport. Five more are to follow. “Doing all of this for them keeps us on our toes and compensates for all the negative things we’re going through,” she explained.
On the night of February 23-24, the Shapovalova family, who immigrated to Montreal’s south shore nearly a decade earlier, experienced a mixture of horror and helplessness to realize the war had only just begun. Across the ocean, their relatives, including Raisa, Igor, and five of their six daughters — the eldest living in the United States — organized their departure in a disaster.
The next day the couple set out for the Hungarian border with their daughters, even Yosik the dog and Chester the cat were there. Since visa applications were made well in advance of the onslaught, they could be processed quickly. Despite everything, it was difficult to get appointments for biometric data collection in one of the three centers near Ukraine. They finally succeeded in this step, at the expense of a few trips back and forth to Berlin.
Efforts and a caring network
But none of this would have been possible without the help of the Shapovalova family, who from the start coordinated the efforts of this evacuation operation remotely according to the needs of each of their eight families. A GoFundMe campaign was launched immediately and has so far raised more than $36,000 to pay for airline tickets, immigration and other living expenses for nearly 40 people, including about 30 who plan to come to Quebec.
“We don’t have any real family in Europe, so we’re the only ones who can welcome them,” stressed young Iana. “Even though we tell them Canada is an extraordinary country, we’re not trying to convince anyone. We just want to give them the choice. »
The campaign website will be updated with small achievements, e.g. B. when a family gets their visa or lands in Dorval. “With my parents and my brothers we form a whole team! ‘ says the very resourceful Iana, who has the unofficial title Speaker. “Everyone has their role with us and my father is the leader. »
At the Greenfield Park deli, where Mama Olena works, a sign with photos of the eight families draws the attention of shoppers every day, who ask questions and share a few words of encouragement. “There are even people who have brought bags of donations. The generosity of the people touched my heart,” she says. Word of mouth had an effect and the wave of solidarity swept over to friends of friends. So the Shapovalovas found rooms, even entire basements, to house their loved ones during their quarantine and beyond.
Terror in Mariupol
Last summer, during a stay in Ukraine, Olena Shapovalova suggested to her mother Tamara that she return to Canada with her as she had a valid visa from a previous visit. But the seventy-year-old preferred to stay in Mariupol. “As I left, she looked at me without saying anything. I could see something in her eyes that said, ‘This is the last time,'” recalls Olena, who is happy to see her mother again, although a little worried about her frail figure and gaunt face.
In the past few weeks, Tamara had to seek refuge with her relatives and around 100 people in a church in Mariupol. “There was no electricity and no food. To get water, they melted snow,” says Iana. Outside, a rain of shells ripped open the facility and carried away everything in town. Its soul and that of its inhabitants, including that of Nikolai, one of Tamara’s sons.
“My uncle sometimes went out with other men to get food from the bombed houses,” Iana explained. “Digging through the rubble, they sometimes found people in basements and brought them into the church. One evening, when Nikolai left for one of his rounds, he never returned. His body was found on the ground next to his vehicle, which was hit by a missile.
In order to leave Mariupol and leave the country, Tamara literally went through the horror, city by city. Zaporizhia, Dnipro… On the GoFundMe page, Iana described each stage of her grandmother’s escape to another of her daughters, Raisa. “The windows of their cars were shattered by the shots. You’ll be back on the road once it’s fixed. […] Please pray for a miracle. »
Prayers were answered Tuesday night when the plane landed on the tarmac at Trudeau Airport. “They have been traveling for more than a month, so they felt a great calm when the plane landed,” said Iana, translating the words of her uncle Igor. “My uncle says he finds an atmosphere of normal life, as if Canada is their home. »
A smile of recognition hangs on their tired faces. “My aunt would like to thank those who help Ukraine. Without this help none of this would have been possible. That’s a lot of love »