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This Ukrainian family was on vacation as Russia invaded. They still haven't been home a year later

From left, Oleksandr Seruii, his wife Iryna Seruii, and his daughter Maria Seruii From left, Oleksandr Seruii, his wife Iryna Seruii, and his daughter Maria Seruii

It was a cold day in Poland last February, but Oleksandr Seruii was feeling warm as he hugged his wife and daughter for the first time in three years.

Seruii reunited with his family on Feb. 20 last year, four days before war erupted in his home country of Ukraine.

He went to the airport to pick up his wife, Iryna Seruii, and daughter, Maria Seruii, who brought only small suitcases, as they were supposed to go back to their country after a one-week visit to Poland.

“I had the feeling that something was going to happen,” Oleksandr told “I never thought that everything was going to change very fast.”

Soon the family learned that their city, Khmelnicki, had been invaded.

“It was early in the morning that my mother called me and said the city is under attack,” Iryna told

Feb. 24 marked one year since Russia invaded Ukraine.

According to a report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights , Russia’s war in Ukraine has caused more than 8,000 civilian deaths and more than 13,000 injuries. More than 13 million people have been displaced.

Millions of Ukrainians have fled their country for safety. The federal government reports that more than 167,000 Ukrainians arrived in Canada as of Feb. 19. 

At around this time last year, the self-employed Oleksandr, who was working as a plumber in Poland, had to decide whether to stay in Poland or take the family back to Ukraine. None of the options were going to work for the family because Iryna and Maria’s visas were about to expire, and at the same time war was getting worse in Ukraine.

After six months of uncertainty, the family decided to choose a third option: coming to Canada.

The family arrived in Canada in June and settled in Regina.

Communities in Regina warmly welcome newcomers from Ukraine, helping them to settle and learn about Canada.

“This is significant that this all took place the day a year ago that Russia invaded Ukraine,” said Charlene Lutzer, a member of Friends of Newcomers – a group that organized a commemoration ceremony at her place on Feb. 24 for the Ukraine war anniversary.

“We are glad that you are here. You cannot go back as long as we are alive,” she told newcomers, laughing.

Lutzer has been knitting blankets and giving them to newcomers in Regina as a welcoming gift. She has given 50 of the blankets to newcomers from different countries.

“I love doing that," she said, likening it to "putting my arms around them. When I can’t do it, they can put my blanket around them.”

Although the Seruiis are happy that at least they are safe, they are worried about their loved ones who remained in Ukraine.

“I am really worried about my mother and other family members who are still in Ukraine,” said Iryna. “I am in contact with them. They say there is no guarantee (of) what will happen in the next hours.”

“We don't know what has happened to our home there [in Khmelnicki]. I spoke with my neighbour today, she said everything is OK, but later I learned that the city is again under attack,” added Iryna.

For 17-year-old Maria Seruii, Canada is a “wonderful” place to live in, but she is not feeling comfortable as her friends and school classmates are struggling in Ukraine.

“Everyone is praying that war finishes in Ukraine and the country embraces peace,” said Maria.

As a 12th-grade student, Maria tries to help people in Ukraine who struggle financially.

“Sometimes my friends and I make cakes and sell them to students in our school and then we send the money to Ukraine to help people there. Once I sent $300,” added Maria.

Maria has been quite lucky that she neither saw the war nor heard the sounds, but she listens to her friends’ stories from Ukraine every day.

“I haven’t heard the sound of rockets and bombs going off, but my friends are describing it. It is really heartbreaking… It was really scary,” recalled Maria. “A lot of my friends woke up with rocket sounds. They panicked and were shocked.”

The family is not sure when they will be able to return to Ukraine, but they hope to.

“We want to go back if there is no war. There is our home and our country. We can’t replace it. Our relatives and friends are there,” said Maria. 

Reporting for this story was paid for through The Afghan Journalists in Residence Project funded by Meta. Top Stories

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