Maryna and Matthew Greer have a full house these days.
The Sarnia couple, who have four children, have opened their doors to four Ukrainians fleeing to Canada to escape the Russian war.
The newcomers include Maryna’s own mother, Valentyna Konoval, who was living in Kyiv when Russia invaded on Feb. 24.
“I had been trying to convince her to leave but she was afraid to go by herself,” said Maryna Greer, who was born in Ukraine. “The next night the apartment building just 700-metres away from my mom got destroyed by the rockets, so she started staying in a bomb shelter.”
Eventually, Greer’s mother returned to her apartment and job at a nearby grocery store, but as the attacks intensified her daughter pleaded for her to come to Sarnia.
Greer also got in touch with a family friend, 18-year-old Viktoriia Zhaivoron — who was living in an area occupied by Russian troops and eager to get out.
Both women obtained Visas, and flew to Canada together.
Greer’s neighbour offered $1,000 to pay for her mother’s ticket.
The Greers then offered refuge to Anna Bednarovska and her young son, and received financial help from Pastor Tim Gibb and Dr. Cassandra Taylor, who are coordinating local efforts to help Ukrainians arriving in Sarnia.
“I was trying to raise the money to pay for tickets, because we do not really have much,” said Greer. “So that was a huge help. Without them I would not be able to bring them here.”
And now, all 10 are living under one roof, along with a dog and a cat.
And it’s been a blessing, Greer said. Daughter Katie, 8, finally gets to spend time with her Ukrainian grandmother. They share a room that Katie says “smells like perfume.”
“And my teenager stopped sleeping in his dungeon now that there’s more people here,” Greer said with a laugh. Artem, 17, shares a basement with the others.
“I’ve put so many bed frames together in the past month,” Greer said.
In recent weeks she has helped the newcomers set up bank accounts, obtain bus basses and Social Insurance Numbers, and sign up for language classes at the YMCA Learning and Career Centre.
“My mom went for one lesson and had a breakdown,” Greer said. “She is 62-years-old, doesn’t know any English, so it’s very hard for her. She loves Sarnia but the language is such a big thing right now.”
Teen Viktoriia Zhaivoron, who dreams of attending University in Toronto, calls her family each morning and night. Her father and brother remained in Ukraine, called on as part of the Territorial Defence. She worries what will happen as the war rages on.
Meanwhile, Anna Bednarovska and her young son, who arrived recently with a single suitcase between them, are taking things one day at a time.
“They’re sharing a bed right now. When the bombing started and the sirens were going off all the time she felt more comfortable sleeping with him,” Greer said. “They are obviously a little bit traumatized.”
Bednarovska left behind her husband and mother, who, in her 70s, decided to stay.
“Her mom had a dream to see North America, and I told her, ‘I will show you anything. I will take you to Niagara Falls, just come,’” Greer recalled.
“She told me no, just save my daughter.”
Greer was able to secure some household items and clothing at a recent free garage sale for Ukrainian families held in Sarnia.
And while they’re reluctant to ask for help, feeding ten people under one roof has its challenges, she said.
Husband Matthew works nights as a security guard to provide for the family.
“I may not have much to offer in terms of materials,” he said. “But I am glad to know these people we are housing are safe and have plenty of food.”
And the Greers say they would be happy to take in more Ukrainians who need a home.
“They deserve better than what they deal with,” Maryna Greer said. “I am willing to sleep on the floor just to know they are here, and they are safe.”