Yuliya Cherman has not heard from her in-laws in 26 days – ever since Russia invaded Ukraine – and the shelling started against her hometown of Mariupol.
The Maple Ridge resident has spent nights awake, searching the internet, trying to find any news of her husband’s mother, father, and grandmother. They didn’t manage to escape the port city before Russia entered the country, cutting off access to communication, electricity, medical aid, and food. She has looked through lists of people who have been killed, who are in the hospital, and who are missing – but she hasn’t been able to locate them for the past 26 days.
“I have health issues because I can’t sleep, I can’t eat,” said the Ukrainian native.
She’s doing what she can – raising money to help a friend, and her friend’s twin sons, who have been made refugees by the war. They fled to Warsaw, Poland, after two weeks of the Russian bombardment of Mariupol. She will help them make the final journey to Maple Ridge, to start a brand new life.
They escaped Mariupol with only the clothes on their backs, said Cherman, describing her friend’s ordeal.
Online she wrote about how her 42-year-old friend, Viktoriia Serhiienko, her husband, Oleksandr, and her 13-year-old sons Daniil and Illia, had sought refuge in the basement of their family house when Ukrainian soldiers urged them to leave.
The family house was destroyed right after they left, said Cherman, killing the family dog.
They hid in another basement before that house was also destroyed and then decided that Viktoriia and the children were going to try to escape, while Oleksandr would stay behind to help the Ukrainian troops.
Viktoriia piled the boys along with her neighbour and her neighbour’s child into her car, and started the drive. It took her 14 hours to drive 200 kilometres to the next city. Because of the constant shelling, they couldn’t use lights to illuminate the road as they drove, said Cherman.
When they reached Lviv, they had friends there who helped them get at least a change of clothing. In Poland other friends helped them find accommodations. Now they are renting an apartment, Canadian visas in hand, waiting for their passports.
“It was very, very hard and tough and she cries even now,” Cherman explained, adding that even in Poland, when her friend hears a siren, she becomes panicked, thinking Russian fighting could easily cross the border. “It’s mentally very hard.”
Her friend doesn’t know if she will ever see her husband again. He is now driving humanitarian aid from the Polish border into Kiev.
Cherman has started a GoFundMe, trying to raise $10,000 for the family to make a fresh start in Maple Ridge. As of Tuesday, March 29, she has raised $5,830. Cherman will help the family purchase plane tickets for their flight to Canada. The money raised willhelp with their resettlement costs.
“Because they don’t have anything, any clothes, anything,” said Cherman, who would also like to help them purchase a used vehicle.
“Because, you know, in our area, you can’t find any job if you don’t have a vehicle,” she said.
The plan is the family will stay with Cherman for a month or so until they find a suitable rental suite in the area. Then they will try to rebuild their lives.
“She told me that she is not OK to return to the Ukraine. Now she needs a safe place to start from scratch,” said Cherman.
Meanwhile Cherman will keep searching for her in-laws.
“It’s very hard, especially for my husband. He’s an only child,” she said.
They are still in shock about the Russian invasion.
Cherman, herself, lived in Mariupol for more than 30 years, and her husband more than 40 years, and they say the city is completely destroyed.
The United Nations human rights office estimates more than 1,000 civilians have been killed during the Russian invasion so far.
Her friends, wrote Cherman on the GoFundMe page, used to love to take their children to Western Ukraine to see the mountains. They loved hiking and exploring nature together. They also loved their jobs, and planning vacations.
“They helped the people around, they took in maybe even too many stray cats. Their kids went to the same school that my daughter went to,” she said.
However, now, “not only their house, but their dreams, way of life, future that they planned, all of that was destroyed – burnt to ashes.”
To donate to Cherman’s campaign to help her friend Viktoriia Serhiienko resettle her family in Maple Ridge go to gofundme.com.
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