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This is how an unanticipated change in my life began, with a brief post: “Mother and 7-year-old child here in Toronto, Canada. We would welcome a mother with child/children into our home.”
The wording was pretty simple. But the leap I was taking was daunting.
I posted that note in the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on a newly cobbled-together Facebook page I’d found that was connecting Ukrainians with Canadians who could take displaced people into their homes. This was in late February, 2022, when, like most Canadians, I watched endless images on the news of women and children lined up for hours at the border to escape the shelling, through freezing cold winter days and nights. I was tortured by thoughts of their contented lives upended overnight; lives just like my own. It can happen. It was happening.
“Good day Angela. I wrote to your DM. Check pls.”
The sender’s direct message was written in perfect English and her note asked about Toronto. Tania was the first person to respond to my post. She was from Kyiv and mother to a nearly two-year-old daughter, Kristina. She was writing from a rural town just across the Polish border. She was staying in a small apartment on a short-term loan with her daughter and two others. Tania wanted to know some basics about Canada. Are there available daycares? Will it be hard to find a job? Is Toronto a good city for children? How cold does it get in winter? (She hates the cold.)
I wrote back and answered her questions and we corresponded every few days. We quickly found common ground, as we were both moms and professionals with travel experience. The Canadian government had put together a visa program, the Canadian-Ukrainian Authorization for Emergency Travel, which provided a three-year opportunity to live, work and study in Canada. Provinces jumped on board with health care access.
In short order, Tania made the enormous decision to come to Toronto and live with a total stranger in a country she’d never seen. Her leap of faith was infinitely bigger than my own and to reassure her that my house was a safe place to land, I shared videos of our home, our neighbourhood and my son and me. We also had video calls on WhatsApp and exchanged the basic stories of our lives over those long, worrisome months as we navigated paperwork and logistics.
The wait for Tania and Kristina’s visa approvals was equally exciting and nerve-wracking. I have a demanding job and am a single parent to my son, so adding two displaced strangers into our home was going to be a lot. I prepared myself for the reality of the inevitable bumps I imagined hosting a traumatized family used to a different lifestyle would bring, so much could literally get lost in translation. But, to my surprise, what I didn’t prepare myself for was the joy, the laughter and the forever-friendship of our newfound family.
Under any circumstances, Tania is someone I would choose as a friend and as a sister. I’ve watched Tania deal with enormous stress, figure things out and just keep going. I am in absolute admiration of her every day. Her tenacity, smarts, humour and practical get-’er-done approach to the brutal circumstances of this war are astonishing. Caring for an energetic and strong-willed two year old solo is stressful. Doing it while fleeing rockets and leaving behind your husband and parents and travelling across three countries with just one suitcase is unimaginable.
She’s coping with the frustrations of adjusting to a new country, tedious bureaucracy and endless decision-making in a time of so many unknowns. Will they only be here temporarily or for years? Is this the right place for her and Kristina’s future? What about her husband and parents? Somehow, despite these mountainous challenges, she still finds joy in her daughter’s laughter, shows excitement at exploring a new city and is grateful for all she has in Canada: support, friendship, safety and work. She knows not all Ukrainians have found these things in the foreign countries they fled to over these last 12 months.
Tania’s time to mourn what she has lost will come. Trauma is sneaky and though its effects are mostly dormant now, we both know it will show itself eventually. I hope that the foundations of our now-joined families will be strong enough support to help her through the tough times.
It’s been more than a year since Tania and Kristina’s busy life in Kyiv was upended. In the long months since she arrived in Toronto, Tania has found meaningful professional work as a digital marketing and SEO specialist. Kristina is thriving in a daycare nearby and the four of us have found an easy rhythm to our combined lives. My son has gained a gleeful little sister and his worldview has expanded infinitely. I have learned that taking a leap of faith from the impetus of altruism can come back tenfold: Meeting Tania and Kristina has happily expanded my own life in ways I’d never imagined. Taking a chance on a stranger – and more importantly, on myself and my own ability to do something as hard as this – is one of the best life decisions I’ve ever made.
Tania and I are two mothers, two professionals, two women, two friends. Our lives mirror each other in so many ways. It really was the simplest thing – literally opening a door – and what resulted is my life and family forever changed for the better.
Angela Jennings lives in Toronto.