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Ukrainian family reunites in the Kootenays

Kalesnikoff Lumber provides job for Ukrainian refugee
Misha Sergyeyev (left) and Emre Senay pose at Kalesnikoff’s Welcome Center. Photo: Submitted

Submitted by Kalesnikoff

Misha Sergyeyev was safely out at sea when Russia invaded Ukraine. His wife, youngest daughter and mother-in-law weren’t so fortunate. They were in Mykolaiv at their apartment, which was near a Ukrainian military airbase, when the war began. As a military target, the area was immediately under heavy attack.

That day the women fled to their rural cottage, where they spent the nights trembling in the crawl space of their underground pantry.

“It was very traumatic for them,” says Emre Senay, Misha’s son-in-law, who is a production coordinator for Kalesnikoff. “They were lucky to have that place to shelter otherwise it would have been much more difficult for them.”

Twice the women reached a checkpoint at the edge of Mykolaiv only to be turned back by Ukrainian soldiers. On their third try, they escaped to Romania and moved on to Turkey.

“The moment they left the country, we were extremely relieved,” Emre says.

Emre and Oksana (Misha’s eldest daughter) had immigrated to Canada years earlier. Across the ocean from their loved ones, they felt helpless and afraid. Oksana began working to bring her family to Canada as refugees, a process complicated by the fact that her grandmother didn’t have a passport or other personal identification.

Meanwhile Emre wondered if there might be a place for Misha at Kalesnikoff. He was a skilled professional with 25 years as an electrical and technical officer on ships.

“I just made Chris Kalesnikoff aware of it, and then he gave us a chance,” says Emre. “We are very happy that they were kind enough to think about our family and give us this opportunity.”

READ MORE: Ukrainian family finds refuge in Castlegar

Misha and his family arrived in Canada on May 18 and moved in with Emre and Oksana in their rental unit. Emre appreciates that their landlord, Peter Tranfo, graciously opened an extra room in their unit to accommodate the new arrivals.

“We reunited the family, but under bad circumstances,” Emre says. “We feel very grateful that they are here. It’s sad for the country, but we can only focus on our own lives.”

“I had planned to visit Canada like a tourist,” Misha says. “Now all has changed.”

Sitting on couches in Kalesnikoff’s new welcome centre in their safety vests, the pair share how much they appreciate Canada and Kalesnikoff for supporting their family in rebuilding their lives. “We feel really taken care of,” Emre says.

“Emre kept us up to speed on what was happening with Oksana’s family, and we wanted to help support in any way we could. Once Emre confirmed Misha had arrived in Canada we jumped at the opportunity to offer him employment, and he’s been a great addition to our team,” says Kalesnikoff. “He’s very knowledgeable and always happy to help.”

Misha is now an electrical assistant on Kalesnikoff’s resource team. He’s grateful to put his skills to work despite his credentials not translating directly.

“I have many licenses but only for ships,” he says.

Safe from the war, the language barrier is now the family’s biggest challenge. It’s especially important for Misha’s daughter, Darya, 15, to learn English as she will enroll in a local school in the fall.

While other relatives escaped to Poland, the family still has cousins and friends in Ukraine. Most are in rural areas where it’s safer, but some remain in the cities.

“They’re not afraid,” Misha says. His brother-in-law is becoming cavalier about the war, telling him, “If we die, we die. If we live, we live.”

Emre explains: “If fear is preventing you from living your life, you stop being afraid … They just live with that fact. It’s unbelievable to me too but I can kind of relate.”

As his brother-in-law accepts the possibility of death, Misha is letting go of what may await him back in Ukraine once the shelling ceases and peace returns.

“Every day things change completely,” Misha says.

Either he’ll have a home or he won’t. As for now, his brother-in-law keeps reporting that Misha’s apartment is still standing amidst the rubble whenever he passes through the shelled neighbourhood.

Misha expects the war to drag on for another year or two, with recovery efforts stretching well into the future, so the family is settling in the Kootenays for the long haul.

“They will learn English. They will form their lives,” Emre says. “Everybody is healthy and safe and everyone is alive. That’s the most important thing.”

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The Sergyeyev family poses in Istanbul, Turkey (Emre Senay’s hometown) in happier times during a visit in September 2021. Photo: Submitted