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Humboldt woman fears for family in Ukraine

Humboldt resident Svitlana Vorona, who immigrated to Canada in 2007, still has family in Ukraine
Svitlana Borona
Svitlana Vorona immigrated to Canada in 2007, but many of her family members are still in Ukraine, a country fighting against a Russian invasion.

HUMBOLDT — Svitlana Vorona said that when her phone rings at night she gets scared, not knowing what’s happening or who's calling.

Owner and operator of S.V Stylist in Humboldt, Vorona immigrated to Canada in 2007 from Ukraine with her husband Vasyl and her two children, ages four and 12, from Novovolynsk. 

Novovolynsk, which has a population of around 51,000, is in western Ukraine, about 10 kilometres from the Polish border. She and her husband grew up there.

There, she has a mom, stepdad, nephew, stepbrother, stepsister, two brother-in-laws, and one sister-in-law, and then their children.

“We’re trying to stay as strong as we can but it is scary. It’s scary because people are dying,” Vorona said.

“There are a lot of different emotions. Mostly it’s heartbreaking when you see children in the banks. They’re bombing hospitals, they’re bombing civilian people. It’s heartbreaking to see that and worry about the family.”

Vorona said that since the invasion started on Feb. 24, people have been approaching her to ask if it’s true.

“I think the people here need to learn the truth about what’s going on over there, because sometimes people don’t realize how people live in another country. You feel like it will never be here, but you never know – it can be here too.”

As of March 3, Ukrainian officials put the civilian death toll at over 2,000, including 21 children. The nation’s military casualty figures had not been released. Russian officials said nearly 500 of their military personnel were killed.

She said her youngest brother-in-law was lucky.

When the war began her brother-in-law was in Poland, which is significant, as current Ukrainian rules restrict men aged 18 to 60, who could be conscripted, from crossing the border. Since he was already across the border, it was just a matter of bringing his wife and children across to join him. Now, together, they’re trying to go through the process to come to Canada.

Meanwhile, her mother is travelling to Canada as a visitor on March 5, after opening her visa five years ago to visit her daughter. Vorona said she would like her mother to be able to stay in Saskatchewan, but doesn’t know if she can with the immigration guidelines. Her other brother-in-law stayed to defend his homeland, as did her sister-in-law’s husband and sister-in-law’s daughter.

On March 2, the Saskatchewan government announced it would be prioritizing Immigration Nominee Program applications from Ukrainian citizens, and that the province will open to an unlimited number of Ukrainians affected by the conflict.

Vorona said that while the Canadian federal government has been supporting the Ukrainian military, immigration and refugee status is difficult to obtain.

The Canadian government has the right to remove someone's refugee status if it believes that the person accepted the protection of their home country after obtaining refugee status in Canada. This could happen if a person travels to their home country, even for a short visit.

As a result, for an individual to claim refugee status means they can never return home again, even when the war ends. Vorona said this has caused barriers for her family.

“You have to really think about the future,” Vorona said.

“If my husband’s brother will come and they say at the border, ‘I want to be a refugee in Canada.’ Then he and his wife and children can never go home and visit family. If they do go home and visit family, their permanent residence will be taken away. They can never come back to Canada, even to visit.”

This causes particular issues when one family member is within conscription age.

“If you have a woman with children and they want to be safe, they can’t come here because men will have to stay at home.”

When asked if there is anything the average Canadian can do, Vorona asked them to donate what they can to humanitarian and defense organizations.

“To the Red Cross, to the army, they need the financial support very bad. I know some Ukrainian stores in Saskatoon are accepting some donations and asking for some canned food and stuff they can send to the army so boys can protect.”

Donations to the Red Cross can be made online on their website at under “Ukrainian Humanitarian Crisis Appeal.”

Locally, Vorona said she’s been receiving kindness and prayers from those around.

“All my clientele are such kind people. They send me flowers, they send me thoughts and praise. Even people I haven't seen in two years – they moved away from Humboldt – they texted me and everything, saying that they’re praying for Ukraine. It’s very kind.”

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