Larysa Yermilova and her 23-year-old son Vladislav Yermilov will always remember February 24, 2022, the day their lives turned upside down and set them on their journey to the Gatineau Hills.
“At five o’clock in the morning, we heard bad sounds, war planes, and bombs, all day,” Vladislav told the Low Down.
That was the day that Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine that it propagandized as a “special military operation.” The conflict wages on today and though exact death tolls are difficult to find, various media and government outlets estimate that almost 100,000 people have died.
Vladislav and Larysa found themselves about 25 miles from the border with Russia in Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, which was high up on Russia’s priority list given the intense bombing campaign that continues there even today.
Vladislav, sitting outside the Wakefield Bakery where he and his mother now work as bakers, has a deep, booming voice and a cheery demeanor that juxtaposes the hell he escaped. His mother Larysa, speaks less English and is less animated than her son except when handing the Low Down her phone to show a video of her son singing on a stage back home last year. It’s obvious from her beaming smile that she’s proud of Vladislav.
Shorty after the bombing, the two left the city to stay with friends in the countryside before going to western Ukraine.
Vladislav’s father died about two decades ago and he doesn’t have any other siblings.
Now that they’re in a new country, they only have each other.
After a month in western Ukraine, the pair went to Bulgaria before traveling to Romania where they could apply for visas to come to Canada because they had heard it was a good country that supported Ukrainians.
“From the start Canada said, it’s necessary to help Ukraine,” Vladislav said.
They arrived in Canada in May and came to Wakefield on May 17 with the support of the volunteer group, Wakefield for Refugees which was founded in 2015 and sponsored three Syrian refugee families.
Group member and liaison for Larysa and Vladislav Darin Hayduk said that after a dormant period, the group got back together to help out with Ukrainian refugee efforts after the invasion started.
“We’re providing more of a soft landing (than full sponsorships),” he said.
Hayduk and other members helped get Vladislav and his mother, along with five other groups or families of Ukrainian refugees, to the Gatineau Hills and continue helping them by connecting them with support services, jobs, and host families.
Valdislav and his mother started baking at the Wakefield Bakery in early-June. He said that he never cooked or baked before this job but is starting to love it. And that’s not the only thing about the Hills he loves.
‘There’s good nature, beautiful lakes, and great people, drinks, and food,” he said.
Vladislav said he always dreamed of traveling across the United States and Canada and now he’s closer to seeing that dream come true.
But neither he or his mother know what the future holds. She said that she misses home and hopes the war stops so she can go back soon. Vladislav said he doesn’t know if he wants to go back yet.
For more information on the group, or how to donate and volunteer visit wfr-wpr.ca.