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Residents opening homes to Ukrainians fleeing war

Nancy Addison stands in front of her home where she and her husband Mark will be welcoming one of the many Ukrainian families displaced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. | J.Stockfish photo

Jason Stockfish, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter | advertising@fitzhugh.ca

Jasperites are hoping to provide sanctuary for Ukrainians able to find safe passage from the war-torn nation after more than a month since the invasion began.

Jasper resident Nancy Addison is helping to co-ordinate and facilitate relationships between those seeking safe haven and locals looking to help.

“I’m doing this because these people have lost everything, and we want them to be able to go back and build so they need to be able to save money,” Addison said.

“All their fathers and brothers and husbands are staying back to fight. It’s heartbreaking.”

As of Mar. 27, 40 Ukrainian refugees have a home waiting for them in Jasper if they are able to make their way out of their current circumstances.

Social media is allowing contact with Ukrainians seeking refuge and foreigners looking to assist them, fostering relationships and allowing tentative plans to be made. 

So far, 17 local families have offered to provide Ukrainians a free place to call home for a year and arrangements for employment are also in the works.

Addison spoke of “so many beautiful offers to open homes in Jasper” from residents trying to help. 

Addison said she and fellow Jasperite Stavros Korogonas initially crossed paths online where both were looking for a way to provide Ukrainians an opportunity to escape the carnage.

“(Stavros) just phoned me up and said, ‘Let’s do this. I’m going to take somebody. My parents are going to take somebody’.” 

Korogonas explained that he and his wife, Gabrielle, knew they wanted to help, and after speaking with Addison, a plan started to come together.

“I was thinking about it, just as a human being, I was affected by what we were seeing,” he said. 

“And I talked to my wife about it, and we didn’t know which avenues (were available).” 

Korogonas then found a Facebook page asking if anyone could take Ukrainian refugees, and that is where he and Addison began to co-ordinate.

He is now awaiting the safe arrival of a husband and wife who are currently trapped by Russian forces in the eastern city of Dnipro.

“You’re talking to them in real time when they’re hunkering down in a bomb shelter, hoping that the next missile doesn’t hit them,” Korogonas said.

“It’s heartbreaking to think about. They’ve accepted that they’re living in it. They’re very brave.”

Jenna and Sean McGrath are also among the local families offering their home as a place of refuge.

Jenna McGrath said that after seeing Addison’s post about a mom and toddler needing a place to escape to, their first response was to help. 

“It was immediate. It didn’t take any convincing. We all knew it was right,” McGrath said.

“We hope that by supporting our new family members they will have a foundation to re-group and be recipients of the love and healing that we have to offer.” 

McGrath noted that she “specialize(s) in supporting women, families and babies, so this feels very aligned.”

Addison has brought confidence to the situation by helping to facilitate relationships between locals and Ukrainians, allowing arrangements to be made, McGrath said.

“Nancy Addison has done a great job of connecting us with each other both for resources and for support,” she said.

“Nancy is the bridge, and we are all extremely grateful for her experience and involvement.” 

Another Jasper resident awaiting the arrival of a loved one fleeing the war is Lessia Kontos (nee Djedek).

Born and raised in Lviv, Ukraine, Kontos has nephews in Ukraine who have been assigned as guards, and her siblings have fled to neighbouring countries, her brother to Poland and her sister to Germany.

The city of Lviv is in the western part of Ukraine and has fallen under attack by Russian missiles in recent days.

Kontos remains in touch with her family members via phone and Skype when possible and said she hopes her sister will soon be in Jasper.

“I was trying to convince her to leave because they hear the bombing; everybody’s afraid,” she said.

“She was planning to go with her son but the next day when I spoke with her (the Ukrainian government) said men 18-60 (years of age) cannot leave.”

Her sister made it to Poland with a family friend, and then her daughter, who studies in Germany, drove to pick her up and bring her to her home. 

“It’s my relatives. Not only that, Ukraine, that’s where I’m from,” she said.

“I know the country and how beautiful it was and now half of the country is destroyed.”

Kontos said she knows full well what living under an oppressive Russia was like.

“I understand why the Ukrainian people fight back, because I lived in Ukraine under a (Russian) socialist regime,” she said.

“I know how it was. You were not allowed to talk about politics, because they were ruling. Everybody was afraid to say anything.”

Falling back under the power and influence of the Russian umbrella is the last thing Ukrainians want, Kontos explained.

“People don’t want to be afraid. They want to talk. They want to be free. They want democracy,” she said.

“It’s very sad. I just hope somebody catches that rat, Putin, and the war is going to be over.”

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