Empty streets and dark homes

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by Ekaterina Strutinskaya

The war that began on February 24 forever changed my life and that of my child. It is difficult for me to find answers and explain to my son why the war came to our house and our country.

As a child, I listened to my grandfather’s story, of how he survived the Great Patriotic War as a child. I could not imagine that such monstrous events would be repeated in our lives. At the start of this war, my girlfriends called me and invited themselves. It was unusual for me to have visitors very late in the evening. The visit became a most pleasant and memorable event on the eve of a tragedy.

On February 24, Ukrainians were awakened by explosions that were heard in almost all cities of Ukraine. Russia launched a full-scale invasion of the territory of an independent state – Ukraine. Missile attacks were hitting military installations, airfields, residential buildings, and urban infrastructure. The next morning, I phoned my relatives, making sure that they were fine and decided to go to work at the coffee shop. It was important for me to be among people, to remain calm, and not to shift panic onto my child. Schools were cancelled that day, so I took my son Dmitry with me to work.

I tried to control my emotions, but the fear and panic that I saw in people’s eyes did not allow me to keep control of my emotions. Dima asked: “Mom, why did Russia attack us? Why do they want to kill us? What have we done wrong?” It was impossible to hold back tears and find words. Our life in Odesa would never be the same again. How do we live on? Where do we escape? How can I protect a child?

At noon, there was a second explosion not far from the coffee shop. Fear, trembling, panic, heart palpitations – overwhelming fear. Dima cried. I cried with him, hugging him, trying to calm him. The fear only intensified. After the explosion, it wasn’t safe to remain at the shop. We headed home. On the way, we saw columns of military vehicles and long queues of cars leaving the city.

On February 24, our life and the routine schedule of our day were changed. In Ukraine, a curfew was introduced. After 6 pm, the streets were empty, and the lights in the houses were dimmed. A single light could become a target for Russian orcs. We spent nine days in the basement. The sleepless nights and the wail of sirens forced us to move to a safer place. I could not bear how my son was suffering, how he was crying and begging God to stop the war.

My friend, who lived nearby, suggested that we leave Odesa and stay with friends in Canada. After much deliberation, I left my beloved city, where I spent the best years of my life. The most painful decision for us was to leave our cat Marusya behind. I gave her to Dima for his birthday. Marusya grew up in Dima’s arms. She would meet him at the door after school and he would tell her how his day went.

The journey from Ukraine to Canada would be difficult, especially for a child. But we had no other choice. Dima walked 16 kilometres with a heavy backpack for the first time in his life. He stood in line for 5 hours at the border with Moldova. We did not know what awaited us and where we would stay while we dealt with the paperwork for Canada.

In Moldova, we were sheltered by a family for the night. The next day we headed for Bucharest, Romania. Caring and generous people provided us with free housing for an indefinite period.

We met kind and generous people along the way and cannot adequately express how grateful we are. Dima quickly found a common language with everyone he met. Everyone loved him, and he became attached to many people with whom he still maintains friendships. I realized that leaving Ukraine was the right decision for the sake of his emotional health and well-being.

Throughout our journey, our friend Stephanie Gilmer stayed in constant touch. She helped us with the documents and supported us with finances. Having lost everything, we found a new family in Canada. We feel the unwavering support of Canadians every day and witness it through the Ukrainian flags that decorate homes.

For Dima, a new life and an adventure began. Without knowing English, he has managed to make friends and become a ‘Rock Star’ at school. The principal and teachers at Kemptville School welcomed and accepted him so warmly. The only disappointment for Dima is that he has two days off from school. He enjoys school so much that he is willing to learn without days off.

When we settled in with friends in Kemptville, a cat joined Dima’s world. Canadian Luna became the Ukrainian Marusya — same breed and colour. He believes this is Marusya and does not know how she found her way to Canada. Our family consisted of two – a mother and her son. But now we have a bigger family with grandfather Sheldon, grandmother Stephanie, sisters Lilah, Ava, Laela, and Poppy.

We are grateful to all who support Ukraine, especially to Southgate and Ben Last for their financial support. Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!

Ekaterina Strutinskaya was born in Odesa and has lived her entire life in the port city on the Black Sea. She is the single mother of seven-year-old Dmitry and raised her son on her own.

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