By Gary Serviss

Special to the Leader

Petawawa — On the morning of February 24, 2022, the Russian military began to bomb the Ukraine using artillery, missiles and aerial bombardment. 

Alyona and Andrey Ladychenko, 16-year-old twin brother and sister were asleep in the Obdarovanist Boarding School for special mathematics students in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.  The enormous sound and vibration of the bombing awoke them, and once they were informed of what was taking place, they immediately phoned their parents, Olga and Maxsym who were six hours away in a suburb of Kiev called Brovary.  They had also been awakened by the sounds of a military attack on Kiev and were of course very concerned for the safety of their children. 

The next day, they drove across the country to pick up their children.  They stayed at Olga’s parents in Kharkiv for a week hoping the Russian attack would soon end, frightened by the constant bombardment.  Eventually they decided, for their own safety, that it would be best to leave Kharkiv, and they tried to convince Olga’s parents to travel with them to the western part of the Ukraine, but Olga’s parents chose to stay in Kharkiv where they still remain.  The return trip across the Ukraine took five days to complete due to roads and bridges being destroyed, constant checkpoints, curfews that restricted nighttime driving and the dangers of bombardment. They eventually reached the town of Ternopil, west of Kiev and then on to Lviv where their father Maxsym parted ways with the family in order to remain in the Ukraine.  Olga, Alyona and Andrey crossed the Polish border at Hruszow on March 8 on then on to a summer camp in Wierzbowo, northeast of Warsaw. 

During their ordeal, they were contacted by old friends from the Ukraine who now live in Petawawa, Masha Zakharenkova and Denys Yelisyeyev.  Masha and Denys instantly sprang into action in order to get the Ladychenko family to Canada as soon as possible.  By March 14, Masha had applied for tourist visas with the help of a pro bono immigration lawyer in Nova Scotia who guided her through the complicated process.  After a week of anxious waiting, they were able to book a biometrics appointment at the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw for photos and fingerprints.  They stayed in Warsaw waiting for the visas for over a week, due to complications and delays with the Canadian Embassy getting their visas processed.  Flights had to be cancelled and rebooked each time there was a delay.  Eventually, the visas were approved and Polish Airways – LOT offered a 30 per cent discount on flights to Canada and on April  1, they arrived in Toronto.  Denys picked them up at the airport at 2 am, after a lengthy wait for them to be processed by immigration, then on to Petawawa where they settled in to Masha and Denys’ home.  For the first few weeks in Petawawa, they found the sound of our helicopters and artillery most disconcerting, but have since gotten used to it.  Maxsym, the father, has since joined the family here in Petawawa.

Here in Petawawa, the local community has banded together and have pooled their resources to assist them in their transition to living in Petawawa.  Denys and Masha welcomed the Ladychenkos into their home for the first few months until they eventually found their own accommodations in mid-June.  Many community members donated clothing and basic necessities to ease their initial transition.  The Rotary Club of Petawawa met with Masha to discuss their most urgent needs and a fundraising goal was set. 

The Petawawa Presbyterian Church also heeded the call for help.  The congregation has donated generously in terms of money, household goods, furniture and a vehicle.  A luncheon was held in the family’s honour which raised an additional $1,000.  With the combined efforts of the Rotary Club of Petawawa and the Petawawa Presbyterian Church, $18,300 was raised to support the family.  This funding was used to help pay for groceries and food, clothing, transportation, medical, rent and other miscellaneous expenses.  An additional $2,000 was donated by the Rotary Club of Petawawa to assist with vehicle repairs.

The children, Alyona and Andrey, attended Valour High School for a few months in order to help them assimilate into the community.  Then they eventually gained employment at Harvey’s Restaurant where they continue to hone their English speaking skills.  Olga initially received employment at Hyska’s Independent Grocers and now works at Boston Pizza; she hopes to improve her English speaking skills as well.  Maxsym has gained employment at Carson Lake Lumber Ltd.  Once their English language skills have improved sufficiently, Alyona and Andrey hope to attend university in Canada in the computer field, Olga hopes to return to employment in her specialty which is Human Resources and Maxsym hopes to gain employment in his field which is as a business analyst or computer network specialist.

Upon leaving the Ukraine, Alyona was forced to leave behind her cherished violin and Andrey his favourite guitar.  Fortunately, Stacy Graveline and the Ghost Town Cryers generously donated a violin and Petawawa resident, Kate Ryan, kindly donated a guitar so the twins could once again play their music.

Art-E-Motive garage in Petawawa made a special presentation last fall of a vehicle (a 2013 Nissan Altima) to the entire Ladychenko family by Roger and Cathy Leblanc.  The car belonged to their son Kyle Leblanc who recently passed away and the family wanted his vehicle to go to someone in need in Petawawa.  Roger and Cathy were joined by their other two sons, Eric and Jordan to make the presentation.

The family has enjoyed being in Petawawa and have found everyone in the community to be very friendly and helpful.  Maxsym, Olga, Alyona and Andrey are forever grateful for the help and support they have received from the Petawawa residents. They plan to make Petawawa their permanent home.  Just another tremendous example of our generous community coming together to support those in need and welcoming newcomers into our town. 

A huge Petawawa welcome to the Ladychenko family, we hope to see you here for many years to come.