Like all of us, Revelstoke-based migrant from the Ukraine, Nataliia Maneliuk, watched through social media and television with shock and horror as Russian launched a massive invasion of her homeland, Ukraine.
She is from the Ukraine and came to Revelstoke for work just over a month ago. Through social media and messaging apps, she was in contact with family back home, piecing together bits of news from the ground during the chaotic first days.
One family member, who lives nearby a Ukrainian military airbase, saw columns of Russian military trucks rolling by on the highway. In the distance, bright lights flashed, and the thunder of explosions rumbled across the countryside, her relative told her.
Her husband, who Nataliia says is always stoic and calm, sent panicked messages from Kyiv, which came under rocket attack. His messages hammered home how serious the situation was on the ground. Usually an unshakable man, Nataliia said it was the first time she’d seen him shaken.
Nataliia working in Canada, her husband in Ukraine, their first worry was their young son in the Ukraine.
Like Nataliia, her husband often spends months overseas working in his trade. They take turns coming home, one looking after the kids while the other goes abroad to earn wages to support the family.
Her elderly aunts and young mothers in her extended family grabbed their children and her son and headed for a relative’s home in a rural area they think will be safer from the fighting. Some of them took busses, others relied on kindness of strangers, who rallied with a sense of unity and offered them rides.
They remain there, as safe as they can be for now, many people packed in a small rural residence, checking their smartphones for news.
At her workplace in Revelstoke at Shade Sails, a local company that manufactures and installs outdoor fabric sun shades, her co-workers rallied around her. Like her, some are migrants from overseas who know what it feels like to live borders, oceans and continents away from family. They offered money, they offered help with airline tickets, anything to help Nataliia and her family.
Nataliia, who has only been working in Revelstoke for about a month, was bolstered by their response. “Everyone wants to help. They say they can help me. They just want to know in what way.” she said. “So kind, so open to me.”
A world away, Nataliia searched for ways she could help, how she could calm her worry for her family.
She decided to do what came naturally. She didn’t have a Ukrainian flag, so she decided to make one herself, one stitch at a time. She pieced together scraps from the manufacturing operation and sewed them together, adding bright red hearts for an extra touch. She stitched small flags for her co-workers, who had asked for ways to help.
Her initial shock has transformed to resolve, buoyed by the defiant stand of the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.
“I think that Zelensky encouraged everyone,” Nataliia said, in her English, which is still a work in progress. “I saw that Ukrainians grow up. I mean spiritually grow up and unite.”
“We want to help each other,” Nataliia said. “This situation unites us, and we are ready to fight.”
She was thankful of the Canadian government’s actions to cut Russian banks from the SWIFT banking system and other assistance measures, saying that Ukrainian defenders are heartened by the support from Canada. She follows international news, further encouraged by daily news of new international support measures for Ukraine.
“I want to thank you for the Canadian government. You encourage us,” Nataliia said. “You play a big role with Ukraine in history.”
She wants to reunite with her husband and son one day, but for now he must stay and defend the country, which is under martial law, preventing men of fighting age from leaving.
As we chat, she scrolls through text messages from her Ukrainian-Canadian immigration lawyer, who is based in the Okanagan. There is encouraging news of potential visa extensions for migrants from the Ukraine, perhaps of new options to sponsor relatives. For now, it’s still early days, the details to be announced in the coming weeks.
“First of all, I want to take my family away from the country. I want to give for my son, a chance to have a quiet life,” Nataliia said. “We had plan with my husband to move to another country. I think everyone in Ukraine knows one day [the Russian invasion would] happen.”
She added that her quarrel isn’t with the Russian people, but its leadership. “I think that Russian people do not get clear information about Ukraine,” she said, referring to the Russian state-sponsored news media.
After Nataliia reached out to me, we met at my place, doing the interview at my kitchen table over soup and tea. (I grew up with Ukrainian family members, it was the obvious place to meet — in Ukrainian culture, family social life happens around the kitchen table, the closer to a warm stove the better). Despite it all, Nataliia has a calm presence, something that’s also familiar.
“We are strong spiritually,” Nataliia said. “I am Ukrainian. I have to fight, I have to fight for the next generation, a peaceful time for my kids.”
Shade Sails owner Brydon Roe said everyone at the company was concerned for the Nataliia and her family, trying to find ways to help, including bringing her young son to safety.
Co-workers at Shade Sails are organizing a peaceful candlelight vigil in support of Ukraine and Nataliia this Saturday, March 5, 2022 at 6 p.m. in Grizzly Plaza. The Stand for Ukraine event asks Revelstoke residents to bring candles or lights and stand in silent solidarity with the Ukrainian people for 30 minutes. You can join the Facebook event here (link) and invite others.
Like everyone else, Roe’s been following the events in the news with deep concern. “If there’s some movement in the community, that would be great,” he added.
Nataliia will be there with co-workers to display her handmade Ukrainian flag, and she asks that we keep Ukraine in our hearts until then.
“I was so encouraged that people are so open. They don’t know me or who I am. My workplace and people comfort me,” Nataliia said. “I want to say thank to people who pray for our country. It’s [a] question of surviving.”