Above: Morinville resident Anne Stalzer (second from left) sits with the Korniienko family from left: Maksym, Nelia, Ihor, Vadym, Kyrylo, and sister Tamara Sukhorukova. – Stephen Dafoe Photo
by Stephen Dafoe
It has been a long journey from Kharkiv in Eastern Ukraine to Morinville, Alberta, for the Korniienko family. Father Ihor, mother Nelia, children Maksym (13), Vadym (8), Kyrylo (7), and sister Tamara Sukhorukova arrived in Morinville on Friday, Jan 13.
The journey began on Mar. 3, 2022, when the Korniienko family and sister Tamara Sukhorukova decided to leave the war-torn country for refuge in Poland.
The family spent the first 16 hours of their journey underground, walking in the tunnels and doing whatever they had to do to get away. No water, no electricity, just their clothing, personal items and their then-four-month-old puppy, whose son Maksym would carry when the pup tired.
After months of travelling across the country from oblast to oblast, from east to west, living in fear but keeping the family united through Ukrainian spirit, the Korniienkos arrived in Poland on July 10, 2022.
“We could not believe the war would not end,” mother Nelia said through a translator.
In Poland, the family was taken in by host families and, at one point, stayed in a building with 70 displaced Ukrainians.
The Korniienkos stayed in Poland for another six months while all the necessary paperwork and visas were ready to make the journey.
The family says that Canada was their first choice all the time, Edmonton in particular, because they felt it most reminded them of Kharkiv.
Morinville resident Anne Stalzer has taken the Korniienkos into her home. They are the fifth family from Ukraine she has taken in since the fall.
“Back in September, I was trying to get a family from a different organization, and they weren’t connecting me with anyone, so I just started to Google and found the Edmonton Hosts Ukrainians Facebook page,” Stalzer explained. “[I] contacted one of their mentors, and now I’m on my fifth family since September.”
Stalzer said news of the war prompted her to take action and do her part to help those fleeing.
“The news was so sad, and we kept hearing about families fleeing and needing to find places to stay,” she said. “I live alone. I had two extra bedrooms in the basement.”
Thus far, on three occasions, Stalzer has housed six people in her home. It has been a rewarding experience.
“They are amazing people. I’m barely able to lift a finger around the house. We’re teaching each other cooking. We practice English,” Stalzer said.
But assisting Ukrainian families in getting established has not been a solo effort. Stalzer has reached out to the community through various social media pages and received plenty of support regarding clothing and furniture.
Recently Stalzer received a cheque for $1045 from Fusion Thrift Shoppe in downtown Morinville, money to support families from Ukraine.
Fusion Thrift Shoppe Manager Jocelyn Hansen said the store is committed to the community and that donations like the one given are part of what they do.
Hanson said a man had donated some antique pieces to the store conditional upon the proceeds supporting Ukraine families.
“We gave it to Anne, who is a local lady that has been doing amazing, incredible work,” Hanson said. ”
The Korniienko family is grateful for all of the support they have received in their first week in the area.
“The people are very welcoming, and we feel very lucky, very blessed through everyone who has helped,” Nelia said through a translator.
As the family settles in, Nelia’s biggest concern is finding work for her computer programmer husband Ihor. With 20 years of experience with his previous firm in Kharkiv, Ihor hopes to bring those skills in programming and robotics to a company in the Edmonton region.
The family does not plan to return to Ukraine and will now make Canada their home.
Stalzer encourages other Morinville and area families to consider hosting a family from Ukraine.
“If you have the time and you have the space, and the passion, it is extremely fulfilling,” Stalzer said. “I’m in touch with all my families, and it just creates a wonderful feeling that you can do something.”