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Ukraine to Terrace: A modern day wartime reunion

Ukrainian family finds refuge though century-old Canadian connection
Peter and Christina with Larysa, Darina and Bohdan, taken at the airport when they arrived on June 29, 2022. (Submitted photo)

A family fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine has arrived in northern B.C. to be reunited with long-lost relatives.

Larysa Brusanovska and her two children, Darina and Bohdan, landed in Vancouver from Ukraine on June 27. From there they flew to Terrace to be welcomed by Peter and Christina Bruce, alongside several friends at the airport on June 29.

“At the airport people were waiting for their baggage. When I met them, I raised my voice and I said my name. I said, ‘My grandfather came to Canada 124 years ago. These are my grandfather’s brother’s children.’ And everybody clapped,” Peter Bruce said of the family’s arrival in Terrace.

“Since then I have been helping them. I talk to them and I encourage them to be brave. It’s a great thing to have them here. It’s a great joy. And I speak Ukrainian with them.”

The Terrace-Ukraine connection goes back to 1997 when Peter and Christina went on a pilgrimage to Eastern Europe. Peter’s great-grandparents came to Canada from Ukraine 124 years ago, and they were excited to explore his heritage.

Peter’s father, a farmer in Smoky Lake, Alberta, had changed his name from Brusanovski to Bruce. Peter, a now-retired preacher who works as a carpenter, followed suit.

Through a series of events, the Bruce family met long-lost relatives in Ukraine, including Larysa Brusanovska. They visited again in 1999 and met more family members from both his father’s and mother’s sides.

They discovered that Peter’s grandfather, Elijah, had sold his land to his brother Nicholai when he came to Canada. The oldest member of the family, Wasylena, was a second cousin – Nicholai’s granddaughter.

They also met her daughter, Eugenia; granddaughter, Larysa, and great-granddaughter, Darina. Through the years they have kept in contact with them by letters and emails.

“A lot of people that came from that small town in Ukraine moved to my hometown of Smoky Lake, Alberta. They were neighbours in Ukraine and became neighbours in Canada,” Bruce said.

“If you go to Smoky Lake you’ll find the very same names as in that town in Ukraine.”

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February Peter and Christina offered their home as a haven. At first the family hesitated but agreed that some would come to Canada.

Larysa left behind her husband Sergei, who serves in the military, and her parents, Eugenia and Wasyl. They live in the city of Chernivtsi, in the southwest corner of Ukraine, where there has been no fighting so far. Sergei is posted in nearby Odesa, which sees less fighting than the Donetsk area.

Bruce said Ukrainians are not giving up the fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces, who are now tearing apart the Eastern European nation.

He takes issue with Putin saying that Ukraine isn’t a distinct society from Russia. He also spoke of the special connection between Ukraine and Canada, particularly in the prairies.

“For Putin to say that Ukrainians are not a people and don’t deserve a country is crazy. He’s a madman. Russia can’t win in hand-to-hand combat, so he just destroys. He is just destroying everything,” Bruce said.

“The real leader right now is (Ukrainian President) Volodymyr Zelenskyy — all the people are behind him in Ukraine. They have confidence that they will, in the end, defeat Putin. They have that confidence and the family here has that confidence.

“We need to pray for them. Sergei isn’t in the thick of the fighting but there is fighting where he is.”

Bruce said it’s been hard for the family. Thankfully they can talk with each other regularly because a Ukrainian telecommunications company provides free service for those who are dispersed.

After a few days of getting acquainted and adjusting to the time change, the whole family found work at Save On Foods, thanks to the kindness of store manager Gary Jackson.

The family is here on the federal government’s Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel plan for Ukrainians who want to come to Canada temporarily. They hope to return to Ukraine when the war is over.


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