Ottawa couple open home for Ukrainian teenagers
As Russia continued to invade Ukraine, more than 100,000 Ukrainians fled their war-torn country and sought temporary refuge in Canada.
Best friends Viktoriia Tipukhoval, 17, and Artur Halanishyn, 18, from Sumy, a city in northeastern Ukraine, are the only members of their family who have managed to start life in Canada – and in large part thanks to an Ontario couple who volunteered to open their door.
Phil Ritchie and Denise De Laat – who have three children in their 20s but currently have no home – welcomed two Ukrainianin teenagers to their home in Ottawa after connecting with a real estate agent Ottawa helps Ukrainian families find sponsors.
“For almost four months we have been communicating with Viktoriia and Artur via email,” De Laat told CTV News. “We have a WhatsApp group and also Facetime with them, and get to know them well before they arrive.”
De Laat, an occupational therapist, and her husband, a clinical psychologist, recognized the importance of helping these two teenagers early on in understanding emotional sensitivity. in the circumstances.
“It’s hard to keep track of what’s happening in Ukraine and it’s impossible to intervene,” she said. “For two kids, I can make the difference. And I hope for their families [in] We know they’re safe and we’re trying to give them as many opportunities as possible.”
She added, “It’s not easy for a 17- and 18-year-old in an unfamiliar city, separated from their family but also their friends. They are starting from scratch.”
When Halanishyn arrived in Ottawa in the fall, he was about to turn 18, the same age as the Ukrainian army enlisted. He didn’t want to give up his dream of becoming a professional dancer.
His best friend, Tipukhoval, wants to continue his studies and pursue a career in art. After discussing her own arrangements to live with a family in Canada, Halanishyn asked if those arrangements could include him.
De Laat and her husband welcomed Halanishyn in September and then Tipukhoval in November. They agreed to let the teenagers stay for at least a year.
“We feel safe with them,” Tipikhoval told CTV News. “They protect us. They don’t feel like strangers.”
Such security conditions stand in stark contrast to the dangers their families face in Ukraine.
“We cannot say they are safe,” said Tipukhoval. “No one is safe right now.”
Halanishyn is now enrolled in the Ottawa Dance School, pursuing her goal of becoming a professional dancer. In that situation, the chances are bittersweet – because his loved ones are still far away.
“It was a new experience without family,” he said.
Da Lat said that she and her husband “repaid a hundred times” what they spent.
“They are really talkative kids and they make us laugh a lot,” she said.
“These are kids who are still trying to define who they are and who they want to be. The possibilities are much broader now.”