To the people of Sun Peaks,
First I want to say how much we appreciate all that was done for us. Without your help, I don’t know what we would have done. The Emonds gave us a beautiful place to stay, we had food to eat, and very soon Davit, my husband, had a construction job. You made it so easy for all our family. It was amazing,
When we first arrived, we were taken to Kamloops and you helped us get all our documents in order: work visas, SIN cards, medical cards, drivers licenses, a bank account — with our limited English skills it would have been much more difficult. Everything is so different here, not the same as in Ukraine. We would not have known which way to go. The people at the Kamloops Immigrant Services really helped us too.
I also want to say thank you to everyone for the personal connections and for helping us find new friends. Davit and I felt that Luca had new grandparents, Al and Nancy, and we had new parents, Brad & Julie. It was wonderful that when their grandchildren visited, that they played with Luca. A special thanks also to Barbara, who I did gardening for, and who cared for us, speaking with us. Her communication was so important.
We were always thinking about what was happening in Ukraine — how is my mother, my sister, my friends — so it was good to be a bit distracted, in a good way, from our worries about what was happening back home. Thinking back, I never thought that the war would come in Ukraine, it didn’t seem possible. But when it came, it was really scary.
We lived in Dnipro, a city of two million people, and it was bombed, as were many other cities in the beginning. I thought it was a mistake, then it was bombed again, then by the third time, it was the most scary. Davit and I had met at University; I graduated as an mechanical engineer, and met Davit working at a call centre for a bank. He had graduated as well, with a degree in International Diplomacy.
Davit and I tried to decide what we should do. A lot of our friends (the wives and children) had already left, and we were afraid because we lived very close to a strategic target, a plant where they make rockets, mostly for space, but also for military use. We lived two kilometers from the plant and knew it was a target. So after the third bombing, and because of Luca, we decided to leave, and went to Poland with no real plans, just wanting to leave and hoping the war would end. Davit is from Georgia so he was able to come with us.
In Poland we heard that Canada was taking Ukrainian refugees, and so we applied for a visa to go to Canada. From Poland we went to Austria, where we waited for documents to come through, and when our visa was approved, we made the final decision to go to Canada.
Around the same time I connected with Ulyana Kotsur on Facebook. She is a Ukranian living in Kelowna and was helping connect Ukrainian families to communities who wanted to help mothers and children. She got our details, then contacted me again, to say she had passed details of our family on to the Mayor of Sun Peaks. Meanwhile we drove to Italy where one of Davit’s relatives agreed to take our car and other things we didn’t need. We took a bus to Rome and flew to Toronto from there.
When we arrived, I had been told that the government mandated a two week quarantine, so we checked into a hotel for two weeks. Then I got an email from Al saying that we didn’t need to stay in the hotel and could just come directly to Sun Peaks. We assumed Al knew what was required. We had done the Arrivecan app, but it wasn’t clear what was needed, and we’d been travelling for 30 hours. I just remember that Al called the hotel manager and arranged for us to get out of our 14 day reservation, and then I heard from Nancy that Sun Peaks would pay for our tickets. It was all happening so fast.
We flew to Kelowna, and Al met us — he recognized us because he was looking for a couple with a young boy. I remember the drive to Sun Peaks, looking out the window, with Luca asleep on my arm, seeing the tall pine trees. We had seen photos on the internet of Sun Peaks, it looked very nice, but to actually see the country, it was real and it was beautiful.
After three nights in the Cahilty Lodge, we met Brad and Julie and moved into their suite. Within a week everyone had helped us get our documents, and Davit had a job. It wasn’t easy, but you do what you have to do, and everyone was helping.
I know that many people in Sun Peaks were involved in helping the Ukrainian families. You are amazing people, I’m happy to have met many of you, not everyone in person, but we feel support all the time, even now when we have moved to our new apartment in Kamloops. When we see our furniture, and use our plates we think of you.
We don’t know what the future will bring. We aren’t far away from Sun Peaks — we are both working now, Davit is working as an installer with Kami Countertops, and enjoying a more social work life. I’ve been working for Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc as an executive assistant in their Economic Development office, as well as doing project management consulting for their marsh project, and planning for a future solar farm. I’m finding the work challenging and interesting. My job is thanks to working as a gardener for Barbara Mowatt who connected me to the opportunity.
What an amazing six months we have had. So many memories, including a very special one when Barbara and Nancy took us to the gathering in memory of Indigenous children at the Powwow Arbour. They introduced us to the Kamloops MP Frank Caputo, and then he introduced us to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau!
We thank you all, we will never forget your help.
Liza, Davit & Luca Barbakadze
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