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Horrible reality in Ukraine hits close to heart and home for some Sault residents

Simple gestures of local support help ease the pain, says one Sault resident with Ukrainian heritage
2022-02-27 ukraine
Sault resident Volodymyr Sokolskyy is enjoying happy times after a soccer game with his family in what is now war-torn Kharkiv. His father, Vyacheslav (left), mother Larysa and brother Ievgen (far right), who is currently in Czech Republic, is seen here.

Ukraine’s anguish is omnipresent in the media.

For those removed from the conflict by geography a simple click allows you to move from the carnage on CNN to The Food Network or the latest offering on Netflix.

But you can’t change channels on reality, especially if you have family connections to Ukraine.

“I have a 3-year-old son, Jason, and an 11-year-old son, Trey,” said Lesia Obarymskyj, a Sault resident with Ukrainian heritage. 

“While catching up on the news, Trey could see I was visibly upset,” she said in an email. 

“It was difficult to find an age appropriate way to explain to him what was bothering me. I put it as simply as, ‘Ukraine was attacked today, and I am just sad for our home country.’ How do you explain to a child the kind of terror that unfolded? I have a hard enough time putting it into words for myself.”

She’s not alone. 

After Russian troops began their onslaught, Volodymyr Sokolskyy called his parents almost every hour. The former Sault College student, who’s been in Canada for six years, also finds it hard to believe.

“I just thought they were flexing their muscles,” he said about the lead-up to war. “I can’t comprehend it.”

Sokolskyy remembers growing up and seeing war in Iraq and Syria on the news. He now feels a connection with people in those conflicts.

“I thought it could never happen in Ukraine,” he said.

For now, he finds some escape at his work at Outspoken Brewery. 

His parents are residents of Kharkiv, a city of 1.4 million people near the border with Russia.

Reports Sunday morning indicated there was fierce fighting in the city.

According to the BBC, residents described intense shelling, with one woman saying it was "something like Star Wars above your head".

"I can't describe the sounds that woke us up," one Kharkiv resident said about the fighting overnight.

Residents of the city hunkered down in the subway.

“I feel bad that I’m away and don’t experience it with everyone there,” Sokolskyy said. “I’m here in peace, which is what my parents would want.”

Lately, however, Sokolskyy has taken to social media to express his views and to encourage people to give money for humanitarian efforts.

Sault resident Nadia Muzychyshyn has a cousin in Ukraine in a small town called Ternopil.

She said the cousin’s family, which includes young children, is safe for now.

Her cousin described the strong morale of the people.

He told her there are more civilians in line to help support the Ukrainian military than there are lined up at the stores.

Muzychyshyn is a first generation Canadian-Ukrainian. The culture was part of the fabric of growing up.

“My first language was Ukrainian. Both my parents spoke to me in Ukrainian,” she said in an email.

She attended Ukrainian School each and every Saturday and graduated as class valedictorian. 

“I took Ukrainian dance classes. My parents immersed us in Ukrainian culture from an early age, and I am so very grateful to them. I still speak to my parents in Ukrainian. We celebrated Christmas and Easter in the traditional Ukrainian way.”

Muzychyshyn moved to Sault Ste. Marie from Toronto about three years ago to be with her fiance.

She started her own Ukrainian food business in the Sault in 2020. 

“My business name is ‘Strava’ which means "food" in Ukrainian. I make traditional homemade Ukrainian food; pyrohy (pierogies), cabbage rolls, borscht, kapustyak, and make specialty items for our Pierogi of the Month members.”

Muzychyshyn says it’s important to maintain hope.

We have to stay strong,” she said. “It's crazy that in 2022 this could happen. Innocent people shouldn't have to suffer.”

Obarymskyj was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie. 

Her father’s side of the family is Ukrainian, while her mother is English. 

Her father Andrij worked at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre for more than 30 years. 

The parents encouraged Lesia and her brother to be proud of their heritage.

“We celebrated Ukrainian holidays and traditions, and attended the Ukrainian Catholic Church locally here in Sault Ste Marie,” she said.

Obarymskyj is brought to tears by today’s headlines.

“It’s been very hard for me even though I am not in the country physically and I’m not experiencing these things first hand. My heart just hurts and I feel this overwhelming sense of sadness and anger. There is a murderous, sociopathic lunatic in charge of the largest country in the world and he’s using their resources to attack my homeland. It’s horrifying to think about.” 

She said simple gestures of local support help ease the pain. These include sharing a post, signing a petition or hanging a flag in your window. 

“As a Ukrainian, seeing and hearing expressions of support and solidarity are comforting beyond words,” she said. “We are strong, we are resilient, and we will never surrender.”

Courage and strength flows in Obarymskyj’s bloodline.

“My father survived World War Two,” said Obarymskyj’s father Andrij. “His recollections of survival would bring him to tears from the bewilderment of not knowing how he made it through. He and my mother met in the UK POW farm camp, got married and I was born. We all came to Canada in 1955.”

The family lived in Toronto for the next 20 years and they cherished their culture.

“My father's career spanned 60 years as a master machinist in the aerospace industry with one of his many jobs making parts for the first sixteen knuckle joint prototypes for the Canadarm,” said Andrij. “I trained as a forest ranger and obtained employment at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre in the Sault for 33 years.”

Pride and anger ooze through his outlook on what is taking place in Ukraine.

“For every explosion into the soil and every courageous death I witness on news videos, my heart is stabbed yet again,” he said. 

“I am here in the free world and yet I feel I'm in a straight jacket unable to stop the engine of oppression. Debate and sanctions do not work, so Putin's threat of nuclear retaliation must be met head on and call his bluff,” he wrote in an email.

It is like father, like daughter when it comes to the question of hope.

“Ukrainians don’t know how to lose hope,” he said. “We are strong, we are resilient, and we will never surrender. Ukraine belongs to Ukraine.”

Canadians can lend some financial support to the fight.

Canada will match every donation made by individual Canadians to the Canadian Red Cross between Feb. 24, 2022, and Mar. 18, 2022, up to a maximum of $10 million. 

Here is a link to a site that provides a list of organizations through which you can donate to Ukraine.

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Frank Rupnik

About the Author: Frank Rupnik

Frank Rupnik is Community Editor of SooToday. Frank is a veteran writer and editor who has worked at daily newspapers across Ontario for more than 30 years
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