Ukrainian woman celebrates one year milestone in Calgary
Alyona Galynych now works at the organization that supported her during her transition
Ukrainian Alyona Galynych found refuge in Calgary with her young sons. Now she works at the Calgary Centre for Newcomers helping others. // Submitted
It’s a bittersweet heartwarming story of unity, connection, and resilience.
The impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced 150,000 Ukrainians to seek refuge in Canada since 2022, including Alyona Galynych who found refuge in Calgary with her young sons.
A year later, life looks much different for the mother of two. Not only did Galynych find safety in her new city, but she has become an active member of the Calgary community and discovered a new sense of belonging and family.
Much of that can be credited to the Calgary’s Centre for Newcomers (CFN) where she received support in rebuilding her life through essential services and language training.
Now, she works at the CFN as a case manager helping other immigrants on their journeys.
A challenging journey
Despite discovering a newfound community, it’s been a challenging and often terrifying journey for Galynych and her sons.
“It was a really difficult decision because Canada was so far away. It's so far from my home where I grew up and from where my two sons were born,” she says.
“From before the war, we lived happily. But in a second, everything changed.”
Waking up to the sound of bombs in her homeland, Galynych was faced with the heart-wrenching decision to pack up the life she knew to embark on a journey to Canada to start a new life armed with just a backpack and her children.
“I love my country very much, but as a mother of two boys, I needed to think of them first,” she says.
But it wasn’t easy to travel thousands of kilometres with small children - a six-month-old and a three-year-old and there were many horrifying sights and sounds along the way.
“I was shocked, stressed, and in a panic. I was also without my husband. You have only your two hands to hold the children. And now imagine that you still need to take things for them and that you must put your whole life in a suitcase. Your whole life. Where you had everything.”
Adjusting to a new life in Canada
Initially, Galynych struggled to find a host family willing to take on small children for more than three to five days. Luckily, CFN was able to find a host family that had their own three small children.
“We were really worried about how we would live together with five children in total,” Galynych says.
”But everything turned out great. We are still good friends. Our host family gave us so much attention that it felt like we had been living with them for 100 years.”
To celebrate Alyona’s first year in Canada, she will be reconnecting with the host family who provided a haven during her time of need.
A community effort
Galynych credits TELUS for donating SIM cards so she could stay in touch with her family back home and for providing $5 million in funding, including support that enabled CFN to provide English courses.
CFN chief program officer Kelly Earnst says the centre has helped thousands of people from Ukraine resettle in Calgary with help from the community.
“Without the cooperation and coordination among many organizations, the governments, and private citizens this resettlement could not have happened,” he says, adding that refugees still need support.
“People can help by offering their home as a homestay until people can find places to live. Helping with the housing crunch is gravely needed at the moment. They can also continue to give funds because despite the generosity of our governments, these funds do not pay for all the costs associated with resettlement.”
Celebrating a milestone
Galynych and the team at CFN help other Ukrainian evacuees, immigrants, and refugees get resettled in Calgary.
She encourages newcomers to learn English and to get a driver’s licence because from personal experience both are “difficult to get by without.”
It’s also important to Galynych to share her own experiences with others to help them with the transition.
“To those who have any doubts about arriving in Canada, all I can say is to overcome your fears,” she says. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We are strong and brave, and we can make it work.”
Galynych will always be grateful to Canadians for giving her family a new community to find support.
“Canada is a great country. It does not look like Europe. It impresses with its spaciousness, freedom, and tolerance for all people. Most importantly, it has presented our family with endless possibilities.”