From Ukraine to Wawota Mishtal family - Svitlana, Paulina (7), Andrii, Paulo (13) and their pet dog.

It is the kind of video that you will often see on social media. The images are of a vibrant and well-kept garden captured in the midst of a glorious summer day. A brilliant cascade of flowers spills out from trimmed flowerbeds. Roses unfold in all of their fragrant generosity against a perfect, bright blue sky. In the vegetable garden, the potatoes are tall and in full bloom. Rows of garlic stand stocky and thick, holding out the promise of an abundant harvest. This garden could exist anywhere in Saskatchewan.
But it doesn’t. Nor is this video a typical garden tour. Because these images may well be a record of the very last time that Svitlana Mishtal will ever walk through the garden that she once tended. For the Mishtal family, who lived in Western Ukraine, in a community near the Polish border, it might have seemed that Russia’s invasion of their homeland could not have happened at a worse time. Because when Russian forces moved into Ukraine, Svitlana’s husband Andrii was far away from his wife and children. Yet as Svitlana explains, their circumstances would make it possible for the entire family to leave Ukraine and reunite in Canada.
“My husband left Ukraine on February 20th, not knowing that the war with Russia would begin on February 24th. At the time, his mother was sick and needed to receive cancer surgery and treatment abroad in Turkey. Andrii went with her to Turkey so that she could receive these treatments,” said Svitlana. “After the war began, Ukraine imposed martial law. That meant that all men under the age of 60 had no right to travel outside Ukraine. We were worried at first that his mother might have to go back to Turkey for more treatment. So, when his mother was able to return to Ukraine after her treatment, we decided that Andrii would stay in Turkey.”
Although their community was not being subjected to the battering that was destroying towns and lives in eastern Ukraine, Svitlana says that it soon became apparent that the family would have to leave.
“There were small airfields not far from the community where we lived. The Russians bombed those airfields during the first days of the war. As days went by, there were more warnings about rocket attacks. A curfew was imposed in our area. We had to cover our windows with something black so that our houses would not attract attention at night.
“We could hear sirens and the sound of shooting from time to time,” said Svitlana. “It was very difficult for us to realize that we would have to leave our home. But we decided that, in order to protect our family, so that our children could sleep peacefully and not hear sirens at night, we would leave.”
As the Mishtal family was coming to terms with the decision they had made and making preparations to relocate to Canada, a town in Saskatchewan that they had never heard of was preparing to welcome them.
Kevin Kay, a member of the committee that facilitated the Mishtal’s relocation to Wawota, says that the town rapidly took action, turning a desire to help, into an opportunity for a family from Ukraine to find sanctuary and a fresh start.
“Not long after the war in Ukraine began, a group of us realized that there was a desire in the community to find some way to help. Originally, most of the conversation focused on finding ways to help children that were being impacted by the war. But we soon realized that the best way to help children was to find a way of helping their entire family,” said Kay. “A committee was formed, and we began to discuss the possibility of helping a family relocate from the Ukraine to Wawota. The community got behind the idea immediately. Within days, we had a house available. Furniture for the house was being donated, a job offer was ready and cash donations were coming in. It really was a total community effort.”
The town’s determination brought Kay to Saskatoon, where he sat down in front of a representative from the Ukrainian Congress and told her that Wawota had a place where a family from Ukraine could regain their lives.
“I wanted to go there and talk to them in person, because I wanted to show them that we were ready for a family to come to Wawota, now. I believe that’s why our offer was accepted so quickly. It’s one thing when you have someone phoning or emailing and offering to help. It’s an entirely different thing when you have somebody standing in front of you, saying that they have a house furnished and ready and a job available,” said Kay.
Soon, Kay found himself making another trip to Saskatoon.When Andrii’s plane landed at John G. Diefenbaker International Airport, Kay was there to meet him.
“Andrii arrived on April 27th. We spent two days in Saskatoon, taking care of paperwork. Once that was done, we got in the car and Andrii came home to Wawota for the first time,” said Kay.
Meanwhile, Svitlana was preparing to pack as much of their lives as she and her children could carry and travel to Saskatchewan to join her husband. She notes that along with bags full of cherished possessions, the family brought along its newest member.
“When we came to Canada on June 4th, I had four big suitcases, two children and a dog. The dog belonged to a lady who was going to Poland and couldn’t take him. So, we took him to ourselves. When it came time to leave Ukraine, we knew that we could not leave him behind. So, the dog came to Wawota also,” said Svitlana.
Since the Mishtal family was reunited in Wawota, another family from the Ukraine has also relocated to the community. As well, there are plans to welcome more families to Wawota in the next few weeks. Kay says that having these families relocate to Wawota will revitalize the community.
“At the same time as people in Wawota have worked hard to help these new families, those families have benefitted us. Community spirit is through the roof. People have come together to make this happen and they are determined to continue that effort. Even though these families might need some help adjusting to a different country and community and acquiring the language skills that they need, they are also bringing their unique perspective and new ideas with them. Who knows? As they establish their lives here, they might start new businesses and bring new life back to Wawota,” said Kay.
Although it has only been a few weeks since their arrival, Svitlana says that her children are enjoying their new community.
“The children are delighted with Wawota and they really like the school and the park. In Ukraine, the children weren’t able to play outside as much. Here, they are riding bikes all the time. It is wonderful that they can play like that,” said Svitlana.
She adds that her family is very grateful for the warm welcome and the help that they have received.
“This is a wonderful village with friendly, nice people that are always happy to help us. We would like to say ‘Thank-you’ to the village committee and to all the people who have done so much for us,” she said.
However, Svitlana says that she and Andrii are worried about family and friends that remain in the Ukraine.
“We are thanking God that Andrii’s mother is doing well and has not needed any more treatment. But we are still very afraid for our friends and family. There’s not a day when we don’t call to find out what is happening. We wish our family could come here too. But for older people, it is scary to leave and come to a new country. And they tell us that they are just caring about us and that we are safe. Many other families we know in Ukraine would like to leave. But the men still are not able to travel out of Ukraine. And the women don’t want to leave their husbands and parents behind.”
As she looks at the images of her garden, Svitlana admits that she is sometimes homesick. But she knows that returning to their life in Ukraine might not be possible,” said Svitlana. “We would like to think that the war will end soon, and that we would be able to see our home, our family and our friends again. But time and our children’s desire will show what will happen. Maybe we will stay here forever.”
If the Mishtal family does remain in Wawota, Svitlana says that she is confident they will grow into their new lives here.
“When you transplant a new plant into the garden, it takes time for the roots to grow. Sometimes it takes a very big time for that to happen. But the plant gets very strong.
“It is the same for us. It will take time. But we have a saying, ‘Home is where your family is.’ Our children are here, and they are safe. We have good neighbours here. So, we are very glad that we are right here. This is a good place to be,” said Svitlana.

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