“I think they know they are taking a risk. I can’t imagine it being anything but bittersweet,’ says local man forced from home by war
A Barrie family opens their arms — and their doors — to a family who were forced to flee their home in Odessa, Ukraine, after Russian troops invaded the country on February 24.
Russ Jeffery said the decision to take in this family of four — including two children aged six and nine — was easy.
“We have room in the house,” he said simply, adding that they had a suite atop their northeast Barrie home that the family could make their own.
“There is a clear and pervasive desire on the part of the community to find a tangible way to help these people who have lost everything they have, through no fault of their own and in a way that we can all see. and that no one can really understand,” Jeffrey explained.
“I happen to have the opportunity to host people for whom a little help will go a long way but people have collapsed to support these families as soon as they see an opportunity to do so and I’m not no different from this general population.”
Jeffery said he spoke to his family about what he hoped to do and they immediately supported the idea, adding that his children — who are five, nine and 11 years old — are extremely excited that there will be other children nearby.
“They were really hoping that the family that would come to live with (us) would include children,” he said. “I have a general philosophy that if you have the ability to share something that’s very inexpensive to yourself and of great benefit to someone else, then you should find a way to do it. .”
This is not the first time that his family has helped refugees arriving in Canada, adding that his father has been on his church’s refugee committee for many years.
“It wasn’t a strange idea for me to get involved in helping people in the last conflict,” Jeffery said.
Jeffery says he spent quite a bit of time trying to find resources that would allow him to publicize his goal of helping refugees. After limited success, he finally came across an article on a volunteer-run website that helps Ukrainians fleeing their country find temporary accommodation.
Despite the article citing the potential risks of using a non-government site, he ultimately submitted his name and information.
“I’ve decided if this is the site that connects people then this is the one I want,” he said, adding that it was only a few days before he received a response. “It’s come together pretty quickly since then.”
The family he and his family will be hosting already had a connection to Canada and Barrie.
“They knew of another family who had immigrated to Canada some time ago from Ukraine…and were looking here,” Jeffery said. “They had already obtained their visas, work permits and bought a plane ticket for Easter Saturday.”
The family was able to escape on the first day of the Russian invasion from western Ukraine, he added.
“They were close to the border and away from the action…but that meant they could escape in the morning with a suitcase and the kids in the car,” Jeffery said, adding that they had been to Italy where they were staying with a relative, but they cannot find a job there.
“They have this connection with Canada, so they applied for Canadian visas. The parents, who are in their thirties, have very good English…so they will be much more settled here than in Italy in the short term,” said he declared. added.
Both children will have their work cut out for them learning a new language in a new country, Jeffery acknowledged, but he expects them to catch up quickly.
“They’re really excited…and my kids are very happy that we’ve managed to connect with a family.”
In his conversation with the family over the past few weeks, Jeffery said that while they are happy to come to a safe place, they are also very aware of the new challenges they will all face.
“I think they know they’re taking a risk…and I don’t know what family they’re leaving behind,” he said. “I think these people must have left their pets behind. I can’t imagine it being anything other than bittersweet.”