Saturday, May 21, 2022
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Rekindled link to heritage leads Lethbridge woman to house Ukrainians fleeing war

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Lethbridge resident Rowen Hill used downtime during COVID-19 to learn more about her Ukrainian descent and says getting back to her roots created and reopened dormant relationships. She says she never thought it would parlay into coordinating and helping those fleeing Russian forces in her ancestral homeland to safety, let alone helping them settle in Lethbridge.

After listing her home on a website dedicated to finding hosts for Ukrainian families fleeing conflict, she was connected to a family in Southeastern Ukraine, mother Natalia, and her daughter Hanna.

“They left with no notice, not even with enough time to grab a winter coat on the way out their door. One of the husbands of the women staying with me was with the military before the war and was able to get them out of their house, and out of that town within two hours of Russian troops arriving,” she says.

“They ended up needing to drive for four full days, driving through fields, driving through back alleys, ducking around Russian checkpoints trying to get to safety. The family of five crammed into a small car and eventually made it to Lithuania, where they could regroup a little bit before heading to Vienna to get the visa process started.”

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Hill says when the pair recently arrived in Canada, she knew it was going to be a long, uncertain transition period. However, she says the pall of the fighting continues to cast a shadow over the lives of the two women, which has led to many emotional, and eye-opening evenings around the kitchen table.

“The unit that the husband of one of the women staying with me is fighting with, was heavily hit with shelling, seven men died and he was incredibly lucky not to be one of them,” she says.

“We are working to prepare in the off chance we get the worst news, we are doing our best to put some additional support systems in place.”

A Lethbridge area non-profit, Project Sunflower, is looking for volunteers to house more Ukrainian refugees in the region. You can learn more about Project Sunflower here.

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