Skip to content

Column: My Halloween costume was unique, but one most here have been wearing forever

An opinion piece on a milestone in Ana Bykhovskaia's Canadian journey.
First minutes as a new Canadian. Anastasiia Bykhovskaia and judge Carriere.

I didn't have enough time to actually dress up for Halloween, but this year, on Oct. 31, instead of a costume, I had the honour to put on a very significant role I've never had before.

On Monday, after almost 10 years in this beautiful country and a long and sometimes tricky paperwork journey, I was officially proclaimed as a Canadian. So please, welcome a brand-new citizen.

In my 2021 New Year column, I listed citizenship as one of the main things I was looking forward to in 2022. It wasn't guaranteed that I would get to finalize this long-term goal and dream this year or at all, but I did. And I'm very happy. So through this column, I just wanted to invite you to share the excitement of this bright moment with me. After all, life doesn't spoil us and our loved ones with too many of those. And this week I got to have an indeed unique and happy event, and I got to share it with my family and friends.

(And while I was going through my ceremony at home, my wonderful, one-of-a-kind team decorated my office with balloons and Canadian flags, welcoming me into this new role and to this country. So when I walked into the Mercury office Tuesday morning and saw what they've done for me, I was laughing and crying like a child. Thank you guys so much for your support!)

The final step in becoming a Canadian was a somewhat brief online ceremony. (COVID-19 reshaped it just like many other things.) There were over a hundred of us, new citizens, and we all had our journey. Judge Carriere, who was our official for the ceremony, pointed out that her Canadian citizenship story could be described in four words – "I was born here." But for us this path was different.

My path has taught me a lot. Almost 10 years in Canada gave me enough time to analyze my past and think about my present and the future. I learned a lot about this country, what defined and keeps defining Canada, about the people here and their values. The ceremony just reminded me of how honoured and privileged I am to be invited to officially become a part of Canada, where differences are the basis of joint well-being, where diversity historically has been making the country stronger and more prosperous, and where people can indeed enjoy their freedoms. (If you feel that there are no freedoms left in Canada, I welcome you to come to spend a few months in Russia or travel to other regions of the world where other new citizens were hailing from.)

The ceremony official reminded all of us that Canadian citizenship comes with rights and responsibilities. Once we became citizens, we were entitled to the rights and freedoms afforded to all Canadians, which most of us experienced in a very limited form before (if at all). Those who were born Canadians know your rights and probably feel that they are something essential, but for me, the list felt like a unique collection of precious stones, which builds a foundation for success.

Legal rights, equality rights, mobility rights, Aboriginal Peoples' rights, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to vote, freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom to practise religion. Most of those rights have been butchered in Russia in one way or the other over the past 10-15 years and are non-existent now. They haven't been in place in many other countries as well. I can't even describe what a wonderful and almost weird feeling it was to gain freedoms rather than lose them, which for most immigrants is all we knew before.

Of course, rights and freedoms come with responsibilities. Citizens must obey Canadian law; express their opinions freely while respecting the rights and freedoms of others; help those in their community; take responsibility to protect the environment and preserve the heritage; and eliminate discrimination and injustice. Another beautiful list. Something I genuinely want to follow.

Of course, not all people are responsible, and things happen. But my experience here proves that there is more good than bad. It might not be the way it used to some 20-30 years ago, but it's still good. And after all, it's all of our responsibility to do our best to keep it good for ourselves and the generations to come.

Thank you, Canada, for including me. I won’t fail.