FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – After being forced to flee the conflict in Ukraine, Charlie Lake resident Hannah Buran says other residents have gone out of their way to welcome her extended family to the Peace.

When Buran’s family arrived in the Peace, they stayed in the Red Diamond Lodge, as well as some trades camps in Wonowon. The family was then moved into an apartment in Fort St. John thanks to a collaboration between a resident, Mayor Lori Ackerman, and BC Housing.

Buran says she initially immigrated to Canada five years ago with her husband and settled in Charlie Lake.

“It was our dream country to come and raise our kids. It’s a very nice place to stay,” she said.

When war broke out in Ukraine, Buran says she was surprised and very concerned for her family.

“We would never have thought nowadays something like this would happen. We thought people learned from the past and war would never happen, especially for Ukraine and Russia,” she recalled.

She says many families in Ukraine and Russia are connected because they have similar languages, with many Ukrainians speaking Russian after being taught in school while Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union.

“When the war started, we were worried for our friends and family because you never know what will happen next in this world, especially when war happens.”

“We started calling them and begged them to leave Ukraine as soon as they could because it looked like we had more information on our end than they had. You don’t even know who to trust in all the panic and everything,” she added.

Buran’s family then spent three days on the road travelling to the Polish border, a trip that is usually much faster but was delayed due to multiple blockades and the volume of people fleeing the country.

She says that some residents of Ukraine that chose to stay behind went out to the roads and gave those who were fleeing food and drink for their travels.

“They brought them lunch, like drinks and sandwiches, and tried to help them leave the country even though they were staying.”

“This was really touching my heart that lots of volunteers just came out and helped people and families, especially families with small children, to cross the border,” Buran said.

When her family made it to Poland, a baptist church was offering food and shelter, with mattresses set up on the floor and in various rooms.

Her family then came to Canada, arriving in Edmonton in March.

“We do remember the day really strongly. It was a very emotional day when we met them. We brought them flowers and hugged them, it was really nice.”

The family then travelled to Fort St. John and worked at the Red Diamond Lodge, who gave them work, food and a place to stay.

Buran says she’s grateful to the community who have welcomed the family with open arms.

“Everybody who heard of our parents coming from Ukraine were really welcoming. You think it’s something really little, but actually, for people who are coming, it’s very nice when they feel that everybody’s welcoming them.”

She says one resident gave the family a picture of a sunflower, Ukraine’s national flower, to remind them of their country.

Another resident made the family a piece of art – an image of a sunflower field with the quote “Stars over the Ukrainian people.”

When the family went to register Buran’s brother-in-law into school, Jane Malchesky collaborated with Mayor Ackerman to try to find the family a more long-term living situation.

“[Malchesky] helped to organize this meeting with our mayor, which was amazing. We could not even believe our ears that the mayor would want to see us,” Buran said.

The family continues to adjust to life in Canada and are working on developing their english. Buran’s mother-in-law has found work, but her father-in-law, a carpenter, continues to look for a job.

While many of her family members are now safe in Canada, Buran says her mother and sisters are still in Ukraine. She says the anxiety she’s felt since the war began multiplied a few weeks ago when multiple bombs were dropped onto her hometown.

“My mom and my sisters, they were working not far from that place. It’s not just like a bomb falling and that’s it. All the windows go out and break into little pieces. Sometimes people have lots of facial injuries or injure whatever part was not covered.”

Buran says the process to bring her sister to Canada has begun and hopes to have her arrive on August 18th.

She adds that she struggles to comprehend why the attacks occured, especially in Vinnytsia where her parents lived and her husband’s parents fled from, where there was reportedly no military presence before the conflict occured.

“It’s very sad and [I have] the feeling it’s not fair. Why would peaceful people just living their lives, trying to raise their kids, and work, they are being killed for no reason.”

However, Buran says that “as a human”, she could never blame the Russian people for the actions of the Russian government.

“You never, never want to kind of throw this shadow like, ‘oh, you are Russian.’ I feel so sad for people who say they’re doing the right thing. It breaks my heart.”

Below is a list for Ukrainians and Canadians looking for resources:

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Spencer Hall is a news reporter for energeticcity.ca and a recent graduate of the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Radio Arts & Entertainment program. Growing up in Northwest B.C. made Spencer aware of the importance of local journalism, independent media, and reconciliation. In his spare time, you can find Spencer reading, playing video games, or at the FSJ dog park with his dog, Teddy.