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Family struggle to escape Ukraine and finally arrive to Keremeos home

Owners of Burrowing Owl Winery in Oliver made a house available for the family of 4

A Ukrainian family of four has finally arrived at the safety of the South Okanagan after seven months of trying to flee their war-torn country.

Ukraine Nightingale Project, a South Okanagan Ukraine support group, helped the family from the start.

And even though it’s been a long journey, on Tuesday evening, July 4, the family arrived at Penticton Airport to a welcome party and hugs.

Midge and Jim Wyse, owners of Burrowing Owl Winery in Oliver, made a house available for the Ukrainian family in Keremeos. It was readied and available to them since January.

The family, born in Georgia, have spent the last 25 years in the Kherson region as grain farmers.

When the Russian army burned out their farm, they fled back to the country of their birth, because they still have some family there. (Ironically, they fled Georgia as young teens when Russia invaded.)

Unfortunately, they were not permitted to work in Georgia, and the children could not attend school while they were waiting to come to Canada.

“The long wait has been very difficult, and matters were made worse due to a mix-up with the issuing of visas and misplaced passports,” said Jennifer Martison of the Ukraine Nightingale Project.

In the case of this family, the father’s passport was misplaced. From that point on, all communications broke down and the situation seemed pretty hopeless.

Ukraine Nightingale Project (UNP) and the Wyses decided to reach out to MP Richard Cannings for help. Cannings and his assistant, Jula Sukumar, both worked every angle they could think of and ultimately decided to involve Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s office.

READ MORE: ‘It’s all new for us’: Ukrainian newcomers celebrate their first Canada Day

After a couple of months, the passport and visa were located. UNP was anxious to get the family to Keremeos with the support of volunteers there. Since they weren’t familiar with international travel, UNP volunteers here assisted with travel logistics and arrangements.

With only a few days here, they are happy to arrive at their new home and look forward to settling in, said Martison. They have close relatives living with a host family on Mayne Island that they hope to see.

“The two families are joyously awaiting a reunion which we all hope will happen soon,” said Martison.

The origin of the Ukraine Nightingale Project was in the Oliver area, with their first family of seven who arrived last fall. That family, with the assistance of Oliver volunteers, has fared very well, and is now pretty much independent. Since then, UNP has been assisting five other families in the Penticton area.

Because of this shift to Penticton, they are trying to recruit more volunteers in the area. The volunteer duties would cover a wide range of skill sets. In addition to drivers and companions, UNP needs researchers that can find and update information that is relevant to Ukrainian newcomers. They would need someone to update and control their social media.

Contact UNP at or fill in a volunteer intake form found at

READ MORE: From war torn Ukraine to Penticton paper route

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Monique Tamminga

About the Author: Monique Tamminga

Monique brings 20 years of award-winning journalism experience to the role of editor at the Penticton Western News. Of those years, 17 were spent working as a senior reporter and acting editor with the Langley Advance Times.
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