It was a dream in 2016 for Ukrainian paragliding pilot Fedir Solovei to come to Canada and soar its friendly skies.
Circumstances prevented the dream from happening then. But now, a vastly different set of circumstances could help Solovei realize that goal.
“It’s paragliding heaven here,” smiled Solovei, 39, joined by wife, Olena, 39, and one of their two sons, Mykyta, six, at a special meeting for new Ukrainians and host families held in Vernon Sept. 11, at the Eagles Hall, organized by the Thompson Okanagan branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
The Soloveis, who call themselves entrepreneurs, having dabbled in real estate and seasonal apartment rentals in their home country (Olena is also a consultant for women helping them to establish and improve family relationships), arrived in the North Okanagan April 5.
They fled their home in Odesa, on the Black Sea, the third largest city in Ukraine with its one million people, located in the southern portion of the country, the day Russia invaded Feb. 24.
Solovei knew the invasion was coming. Like many of his countryfolk, he just didn’t know when. He was alerted to the invasion at 5:30 a.m. that morning by his oldest son Daniel, from a first marriage. Daniel lives with his mom and her husband, also in Odesa.
“He called and said the war had started,” said Solovei, whose English is quite good. “There were several explosions close to his house. We were mentally ready. There was no chance to avoid this war. The people saw that.
“We just woke up, started collecting our necessary things like documents and clothes. We had to leave everything there and get our children out of Ukraine.”
Solovei took the opportunity to get a second COVID vaccination at a clinic that morning, then helped Olena and the kids pack up. They called Olena’s brother and asked him for help, as he had a vehicle (the Soloveis did not).
The brother’s car was in the shop having its wheels and brake system repaired.
No problem. It was ready and fixed by 2 p.m. So seven people crammed into the vehicle and started for the Moldova border crossing. As they crossed into Moldova, the Ukrainian government issued an edict that no man between the ages of 18 and 61 could leave. Solovei and his brother-in-law were excluded as they were not in the country anymore.
After two weeks in Moldova, the Soloveis began the paperwork to move to Coldstream, where Solovei’s mother has lived the past three years after re-marrying. Their visitors Visa was approved for the entire family (Solovei’s older son, ex-wife and her husband remain in Moldova).
Since arriving in Coldstream, Olena’s brother has joined the family, and her father has also been approved for a travel passport and Canadian Visa. Soon, the family will be back together in the North Okanagan. Solovei and his brother-in-law both got jobs with Coldstream’s Thompson and Sons Construction.
“I am happy to work with them,” said Solovei, employed as a carpenter. “It’s a family business. Father, three sons, the mother, they work as one team, and (holding back tears) they consider us members of their family which I really appreciate.”
He’s also grateful for all the help he and his family have received since February.
“It’s not just Canadians. The whole world is trying to help Ukrainians,” said Solovei. “Moldova, other countries.”
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress Thompson Okanagan branch welcomed a dozen Ukrainians from the North Okanagan and Shuswap to the meeting, which offered a variety of topics. Items like government financial aid, housing, day care, work permits, medical/dental services, driver’s licences and legal services were discussed over two hours.