Hosting a Ukrainian Family: My Story
When I learned of the attacks and war in Ukraine, I was concerned, of course, but, to be honest, with all the terrible events happening all around the world, I felt somewhat numb to it all. I felt helpless to do anything other than pray and send money.
Several months later, a friend asked if I’d like to attend a presentation at Centre Street Church about hosting Ukrainians. After learning of the huge need for temporary housing, I thought that perhaps I/we could help. I shared what I’d learned with my husband and he said he didn’t want to share his space. I agreed but asked him to consider what it would be like if our country was invaded or if our family – our daughters – needed to escape a war-torn place.
After ‘sleeping on it,’ he said that it was the right thing to do; we should help a family by giving them a home. Then I panicked a wee bit; I wasn’t sure I was totally on board with the idea! Once I sat with it and prayed about it, I concluded yes … we could do this, so we should do it.
I contacted the Centre for Newcomers, who had spoken at the presentation and began the process of being matched with a family. We were given basic info on a family and a photo of them. Once we saw their faces, we said “yes”! Then we learned that some families register with more than one organization out of desperation. The family we’d been matched with was living on the streets in Germany, having fled Ukraine. They had a baby and a 6-year-old child and had also been offered a home by another family in Calgary, slightly earlier than our offer.
We were soon matched with another family: a Mom and Dad and 2 sons, ages 5 and 10, who would be arriving in a couple of weeks. We all signed a contract which included the length of stay (maximum 2 months), that they’d provide and cook their own food, clean up after themselves, respect us and our home, etc. I began to prepare for their arrival and was so grateful that I’d recently tackled the dumping ground that would be their home (our furnished basement with a bedroom and bathroom). Our commitment was to offer a furnished bedroom, bedding, towels, basic toiletries, a bathroom and to share the kitchen.
In the short time leading up to their arrival, we communicated a couple of times with ‘our’ family, mostly regarding their arrival. Early on, we understood that they didn’t want to be a burden, as they offered to make their own way to our home from the airport. We declined this offer. So, on a blustery, cold, dark November evening we met ‘our’ family and brought them to their first Canadian home.
I’d asked a Ukrainian friend – Danny, at Margarita’s Dishes at the Calgary Farmer’s Market, what food I should offer them for their first meal, thinking perogies or cabbage rolls. Danny laughed and replied that I should serve cheeseburgers and pizza! Turns out, they were too tired to eat much of anything, having travelled from Estonia.
The family, (we’ll call them the P’s!) were very motivated to begin the settlement process, so early the next morning we took them for their SINs, SIM cards, to open a bank account, have medical examinations, etc. They knew exactly what they needed to do and were prepared to take Calgary Transit to complete all these errands, all over the city. We finally convinced them that we were happy to drive them, as it was very cold and inconvenient to rely on transit.
Early on, we settled into a routine of sharing meals, which of course, was a wonderful way to get to know each other. They told us they’d had the dream of living in Canada, but never thought it’d be possible and that they were looking ahead, not back, to give their sons a better future. Sharing meals provided the unexpected blessing of enjoying delicious Ukrainian food.
The P family were very respectful of our home, our possessions and our time. They were with us almost 2 months, as they announced on New Year’s Day that they had their own home! We were very surprised as we weren’t even aware that they’d been looking for their own place. We and friends helped them gather furnishings and they’ve done a lovely job of setting up their home, which is just a few minutes from our house!
Both parents are working, the eldest son is in grade 5 at the community school and has started playing soccer and football, which he’s passionate about. My husband and I care for the younger son while the Dad is in English classes at FAC. He accompanies me to Wellness Mornings at the Deerfoot Campus and now has many friends! The P’s have a vehicle and are doing very well. We see them several times a week and know that we’ll continue to grow closer as the language barrier comes down.
Shortly after the P’s moved out of our home, I asked my husband how he felt about the experience. He responded that it was the most rewarding thing he’d ever done. My ‘takeaway’ is that hosting a family is far more of a blessing than a burden. A totally unexpected blessing is that our marital relationship is better than it’s been in a long time, as we had a common goal that we worked toward. This is definitely an answer to prayer!
We’ve recently welcomed our second Ukrainian family into our home and wonderful relationships are developing between our first and second families and between us and them. They too, are lovely and very motivated to succeed in Canada.
Thank you Tom and Catherine for telling your story about sharing the gift of hospitality to a family in need! There are so many unique ways to give back at FAC, including supporting refugees upon arrival through English classes. Contact Michelle to learn more!
You may also be interested in …
- Item Donations: Meeting Practical Needs
- “You’re Going Where?” May 2023
- “An Update from Anna”, March 2023
- “An Update from the Jababs”, March 2023
- “God’s Artistry at Work: An Update from Kaura-Lea”, June 2022