More than a hundred people attended a candlelight vigil at the B.C. Legislature in honour of the Ukrainian soldiers and civilians who were killed in the war yesterday, Feb. 24.
Anastasiia Konstantynova was among them. She is one of least 950 Ukrainians who have settled down in Vancouver Island after fleeing from Ukraine.
She was a former high school physics teacher and server, but after Russia’s invasion, she now works full-time as a mother, daycare assistant, and an event manager for Help Ukraine Vancouver Island (HUVI).
“I feel like I’m doing good job here. Yeah, I’m proud of me,” said Konstantynova.
It wasn’t the first time that the 28-year-old was forced to leave her home. In 2015, she moved from the Donetsk Oblast province to Kyiv after the Crimea Invasion.
“In that time, you realize apartment, your job, it doesn’t matter. Only your family and people you love matters,” said Konstantynova.
She’s had her eyes set on Canada for two years and made the move with her husband and daughter in May of last year.
“It’s easier for us to do it the second time, to come here and build up our lives from zero again,” she added.
The rest of her family remains in the war-stricken country and don’t have plans to leave. Konstantynova says her family feels safer in their home country. To her, however, some days are harder to deal with that fact than others.
“I worry about them all the time, sometimes you can’t reach them for a few days,” she said.
Since last year, HUVI has helped nearly 1,000 Ukrainians settle on the island, but they’re seeing a sudden increase in those fleeing the war and that has the agency worried.
“Between August and the end of December, we were averaging 10 people per week on Vancouver Island and we are now averaging 40, and that number is going to keep going up,” said Karmen McNamara, General Manager with HUVI on Feb. 18.
A March 31st deadline is nearing and the federal government has not announced whether it will extend a fast-track visa program for incoming Ukrainian refugees.
Some Ukrainians who fled did so with a plan to make change when they return.
15-year old Daria Moskalenko started attending St Margaret’s School in September, which has been a dream for her for years. Her other siblings each received an education outside of Ukraine.
“I like that I have the ability to see the world from a different perspective,” said Daria.
Her plans for studying abroad were quickly pushed ahead by Russia’s invasion and she soon found a sponsorship opportunity from the all-girls school.
Moskalenko isn’t wasting a moment of her time. She’s an active member in the school’s rowing team, rugby team, boarding leadership, and Model United Nations Club, which she says helped fight her fear of public speaking.
“Now I’m interested into pursing my career maybe into politics,” said Daria.
Daria’s family is still back home in Ukraine, which is a difficult thing to handle in her day to day life. Her older brother was among one of the many men who were drafted to serve at the beginning of the war.
“It was harder in the beginning. I remember he texted my father that said ‘we’re surrounded by Russian soldiers. I think that [this] is my last day’,” Daria recounted.
Her brother was eventually discharged for medical reasons stemming from the war, but more than half of his company didn’t make it.
“My heart still breaks for all the people that are fighting right now,” said Daria.
Daria says she’s planning on taking some University courses and a trip back home later this year.
A second vigil to honor the one year mark is scheduled to happened in Parksville on Friday March 3 at St. Mary’s The Protectress church at 7 p.m.