Iryna Podoprygora with her 12-year-old daughter, Alina. Photo courtesy Podoprygora family

Kitchener student rallies support for Ukraine

  • March 23, 2022

A Kitchener, Ont., family is breathing a sigh of relief after loved ones arrived safely in Canada following a long, white-knuckle journey to escape the war in Ukraine. 

Iryna Podoprygora’s parents and mother-in-law travelled by train from western Ukraine to Warsaw, Poland, eventually boarding a plane to Canada. Despite the safe surroundings in Canada, however, and after the family’s joy-filled reunion, Podoprygora’s 70-year-old father remains hyper-vigilant. Triggered by loud sounds, after weeks of air-raid sirens prompting scrambles to safety in the basement of their home near the Ivano-Frankivsk airport, being safe again has been hard to sink in. 

“I feel their stress,” said Podoprygora, a mother of two. “Every strong sound will startle them and stress them, especially my dad. He seems very under pressure. We’re saying it’s just an ambulance or a fire truck, it’s not the (air-raid) sirens. … I realize it will take time for them to understand they are in safe place, in security and that the siren is not because the air attack is coming.”

Podoprygora’s parents had Canadian visas and after the third strike on the airport near their home, though reluctant, Podoprygora and her husband convinced them to leave. Though it’s been a big relief, they are worried for other family still in Ukraine and those who have escaped to Poland and struggle to find housing due to the influx of refugees.

On March 18, the federal government launched a special pathway for Ukrainian refugees, the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel pathway. Podoprygora will apply for more family to join them in Canada, though her 46-year-old brother-in-law and 25-year-old nephew will have to remain in Ukraine to enlist in their regional defence.

Inspired by her family’s story, Podoprygora’s daughter, Alina, a seventh grader at Père-René-de-Galinée Catholic Secondary in Cambridge, organized a rally for the nation. She thought it important for young people to understand what was happening in Ukraine to families like hers and make their voices heard.

The first assembly at the Grade 7 to 12 school in two years since COVID-19, principal Luc Renaud worked with Alina to organize the event. Starting off with the prayer of St. Francis, a prayer for peace, Alina passionately shared the history of her people and how the war was impacting Ukrainians on the ground.

“I discussed all the horrible things that Russia’s army has been doing, like bombing up cities in the night, killing innocent Ukrainians who aren’t even part of the army,” said the youngster. “Even children have died because of them… I wanted to deliver a truthful message to my school and share all the real facts.”

“You could have heard a pin drop the entire presentation,” said Renaud.

Though Alina was just three when she came to Canada with her parents, she has remained deeply connected to her culture. Podoprygora sent video of the rally to family in Ukraine and it was spread to friends and others. Seeing the strength of someone so young and so far away, Podoprygora says, brought encouragement to many.

More than being able to bring family members to safety in Canada, Podoprygora and her family hope for a quick end to the war. As Greek Catholics, the family continues to diligently pray for peace. They have faith, she says, in the people of Ukraine to not only survive but find victory.

“We continue praying to God, asking for help,” said Podoprygora. “Maybe we are praying in the wrong way. We are praying to protect ourselves. Maybe we should pray to help Putin to be less aggressive. To let more love and kindness in his heart or change his way of thinking. Instead of praying to protect each of us separately, if the whole world will pray to change this one person in a better way maybe that will stop the war.”

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