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Making Sarnia Home

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Cathy Dobson

It’s clear how much Olena Volodina misses Ukraine.

She and her family are safe in Sarnia while bombs devastate their homeland. Moving half way around the world to start a new life has been difficult.

On Tuesday, Volodina’s heartbreak was evident as she spoke to about 45 Golden K Kiwanis members about her decision to leave Ukraine and make a new home in Sarnia.

“It’s terrible to live in fear with thoughts that tomorrow might not come,” she said about living in a war zone. “No one knows when it’s the last time we say goodbye.”

Out of fear that their children would be harmed, Volodina, 35, and her husband, Dmytro, left for Poland, then sought refuge “as far away as possible,” she said.

“What could be more important than saving a child’s life?” asked Volodina. “We are here to keep our kids happy.”

From Poland, the couple posted a message on Facebook explaining that their daughter Anastasiia has diabetes. They had already decided to come to Ontario but didn’t know where to re-establish their lives.

But when Sarnia’s Dr. Cassandra Taylor answered on Facebook, they quickly made plans to come.

“She told us she could help us. That was important because it was a new country, new food, new everything,” Volodina said. “She found a host family for us, bought (Anastasiia) insulin.

“She was a huge support for us.”

That was over a year ago. After two months with the host family, the Volodinas moved out to rent their own place.

They’ve made connections with Sarnians as well as other Ukrainians who have come here since the war began in 2022.

Olena Volodina, centre, came to Sarnia a year ago and has found a community of Ukrainians who have also fled the war. From left are: Olga Komirenko and her daughter, one-year-old Emily, Olena Volodina, Olena Prozorova and her daughter, 15-month-old Sofia. (Cathy Dobson)

Their son, 12-year-old Yaroslav, had a good year in Grade 6 at St. Matthew’s Catholic School and earned Lambton County’s chess champion title. Anastasiia did well in Grade 3.

But the transition has not been easy for the adults, Volodina said.

She was an electrical engineer in Ukraine while her husband worked as a banker.

In Canada, they are unable to work in their chosen fields and she is not sure when she’ll be able to write the technical exams that will allow her to work in engineering again.

Meanwhile, she is tutoring Lambton College students in math.

Dmytro has taken a job drywalling.

“It’s very difficult to move somewhere,” she said. The community is very supportive, especially with her daughter’s health requirements. But she wants to work full-time.

“I want to do something with my brain. I am good with numbers,” she said. 

Five months ago, she and Dmytro joined the Golden K Kiwanis Club to meet more local people.

“It’s hard for us but we are thinking of our kids,” she said.


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