One day you’re teaching college, the next you’re homeless – Maple Ridge News

By Phil Melnychuk

It took about a day to break the life of a normal family in Kharkiv, Ukraine on February 24.

Tatyana Kolesnikova thought the first loud noise was the sound of a car crash on the road near her apartment building.

But the noise was one of hundreds of shells hitting the city as Russian forces crossed the border and launched a brutal full-scale blitzkrieg on their neighbour.

The shells pounded the town and destroyed his apartment and most of the building. His family spent three weeks holed up in the basement as shells and rockets rained down before fleeing to a refugee camp in Moldova.

Until then, Kolesnikova taught biomedical systems and web design at the National University of Radioelectronics in Kharkiv.

Before the bombing, her husband was an engineer. Today, he voluntarily delivers food to the elderly of Kharkiv and digs up the bodies of the living and the dead from the ruins.

“Yesterday you were a college professor and today… you are homeless,” said his cousin Katerina Pogrebinski, who helped with the translation on Saturday during Canadian Multiculturalism Day at Memorial Peace Park in Maple Ridge.

“It’s an amazing, overnight transition…from people who have never done anything wrong,” and who just wanted to live in a free country, she added.

Kolesnikova was finally accepted under the Canada-Ukraine emergency travel clearance and arrived in Canada a month ago.

A foster family in Maple Ridge offers him and his two children, Maryna and Maksym, a place to live until they are settled.

“I’m looking for my first job in Canada,” said Kolesnikova, who files three resumes every day.

His daughter, a nationally ranked swimmer from Ukraine, is already washing dishes at the Meadow Gardens golf course, in order to improve her English. Later, she would like to get a job as a swimming coach.

Maksym will repeat 9th grade to upgrade in English, but in the meantime he has found a place at Albion football club.

After weeks of bombardments and shells, the family does not speak of what they have experienced.

“We don’t talk about everything, but the pain we’re going through is very real,” Kolesnikova said.

Such experiences change a person’s life so dramatically, added Pogrebinski, a high school teacher from Garibaldi.

“There’s nothing you can compare to that.”

Amnesty International has verified that Russia used banned cluster bombs. Amnesty says it has also documented a “wide range of unlawful and indiscriminate attacks” in Kharkiv. Indiscriminate attacks that kill civilians are a war crime.

Today, it is difficult to know what awaits us.

“We don’t know what’s tomorrow. In Ukraine, everyone lives one day at a time,” Kolesnikova said.

Pogrebinski said that if Russia took control of Ukraine, the family would not return.

“Nobody wants to live under Russian rule.”

If Ukraine pushes back the invaders, it is possible that it will return. But she is focused on her children and the current reality – that she has no home to return to.

“She has no choice,” Pogrebinski said.

The lack of understanding, of knowing why they are being attacked by a neighbor, hurts. Many Kharkiv families had family and friends on both sides of the border. Kharkiv is about 40 kilometers from Russia.

“A lot of Ukrainians couldn’t believe that our Russian brothers could come (attack) us,” Kolesnikova said. It is difficult to understand what happened, she added.

Pogrebinsky’s husband, Igor, underlines the absolute absurdity of the war.

“You don’t bomb and annihilate your brothers,” he said.

It would be like Canadians spending the day shopping in Seattle, only for the Americans to bomb Vancouver the next day, Katerina added.

But she points out that there is opposition in Russia to the war, despite heavy repression.

“Nor is there just one color to paint Russians.”

Igor would like to add his deepest gratitude to the host family and everyone’s help.

“We are all extremely grateful to the people who open their homes. I’m so glad there are kind people in this country.

With the future unknown, Kolesnikova is focused on building a new life and is grateful for the huge amount of help she has received, adding that she is used to doing everything on her own. But she is confident and strong. “Of course, because I’m Ukrainian,” she says.

But it’s easy to be a strong woman when you have a lot of support, she adds.


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