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A very special Canada Day for newcomers from Ukraine

Published on

Cathy Dobson 

Ihor Komirenko’s 11th birthday is one the Ukrainian boy won’t soon forget.

He turns 11 on July 1st, and will be celebrating it in a new home and a new country that shares his birthday.

What’s more, his mom is ready to deliver a baby sister, and her due date is also around Canada Day.

The Komirenkos – Ihor and his parents Igor and Olha – arrived in Corunna on May 9 after making contact with a local group of volunteers arranging safe haven to Ukrainians fleeing the war.

The past two months have been a whirlwind of travel, meeting new people, and settling in at the home of Debbie and Peter Osmond.

Using a phone app for translation with The Journal, the Komirenkos said the Osmond’s generosity and the outpouring of community support astonish them.

They didn’t think coming to Canada was an option because Olha, 30, was pregnant when Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February. She couldn’t imagine flying half way across the world.

The family was temporarily in Austria at the time, having left their home near Lviv in western Ukraine while Igor took a construction job. It’s common for Ukrainians to work in Europe on contract, she said.

“We were very lucky. We were saved from fears that other Ukrainians experienced, scares of big economic difficulties and the atomic bomb.”

But they couldn’t stay in Austria indefinitely and began looking for a country willing to take them.

“Mentally, it’s hard,” said Olha Komirenko. “Our families are still in Lviv and there is anxiety. We miss them and I cry.”

What convinced her was an online contact with Sarnia’s Dr. Cassandra Taylor. A friend had suggested Canada might be an option and she began searching Facebook for Canadians willing to help. A page in London-Middlesex posted info about the Komirenkos and Olha’s need for a host and obstetrical care.

Dr. Taylor, who spearheads a local volunteer effort assisting Ukrainians, said she would help her find a doctor. When the Osmonds invited them to live in Corunna for a year, the match was made.

“This is a very special family,” said Debbie Osmond. “We’re very excited to help and be part of the new baby.”

The Komirenkos qualified for the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program, and had the airfare. They messaged the Osmonds only a few times.

“We are generally very optimistic people in life,” Olha Komirenko said. “We are not afraid to change something, leave, take risks and it probably rescues us a lot.”

After arriving two months ago, son Ihor is settling into Grade 5 at St. Joseph Catholic School. He’s a huge soccer fan and when he saw his new bedroom decked out in soccer flags, he announced he never wanted to leave the Osmonds’ home. He’s already playing for the GallaDevs Soccer Club in Sarnia.

Dr. Taylor found an obstetrician for Olha. The baby’s due date was July 1, but she could arrive earlier.

Olha and Igor, 33, are taking English classes and he hopes to train to become a truck driver at the company Peter Osmond manages.

“I’ve always dreamed of driving big trucks. Now that dream will probably come true,” he said.

“There are just no words to describe how good people are to us,” his wife said.

As word of the coming baby spread the home was showered with donations and gifts.  An entire room is now packed, thanks to several local churches, the Knights of Columbus, staff at Bluewater Health, and many individual donations.

Young Ihor was given a scooter, a soccer ball, video games and Lego, and his father received a donated bicycle.

“I want to thank all the people who live here,” said Olha, using the translating app.  Many Ukrainians are choosing to go to larger centres like Toronto but she recommends smaller communities.

“There are just no words for the help we’ve received. Also, I want to say we would not be able to cope without Debbie and Peter,” she said. “We are very, very grateful and hope to become part of the community.”

Approximately 75 Ukrainians have found a host home in Sarnia-Lambton and more are arriving in July.

Volunteer Lisa Matlovich said more hosts are needed.  If interested, visit Facebook at Save Ukraine – Sarnia and Lambton County.

As of press time, baby Komirenko was still waiting to make an appearance.

Igor and Olha Komirenko surrounded by donations from the Sarnia-Lambton community for their baby.
Cathy Dobson


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