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Three families mark Christmas together

Two Ukrainian refugee families living with Maple Ridge family part of a large Canadian celebration
Ukrainians David Tiuptia (4), Maria Kozelets (6), Liana Kozelets (13), in the foreground, enjoy playing in the snow with Canadians Maria Gileff (11) and her three younger brothers (Ian, Daniel and Timmy). The three families are all living at the Gileff home, and all 17 of them will celebrate Christmas together. (Special to Black Press Media)

By Frank Bucholtz/Special to Black Press Media

A family with roots in both Maple Ridge and Langley are celebrating a Christmas like no other – with two additional families from Ukraine.

The Gileff family is comprised of father David, mother Taya, and six children. They live in Maple Ridge, and five of the children are part of the Langley Ukulele Ensemble.

They are now sharing their home with two other families who have been uprooted from the war zone in Ukraine. The Kozelets family consists of two parents and four children, while the Tiuptia family is two parents and one child.

Altogether, there are 17 people living in one home.

Every refugee family from Ukraine has a unique story.

One of the two families staying with the Gilleffs came to Canada in May; the other came in August.

Four of the seven Ukrainians living with Gilleff are hard of hearing, which makes communication more challenging.

One family is actively looking for housing of their own, but that is proving to be a real challenge. As anyone who has tried knows, finding a place to rent is a challenge, and rents have risen significantly in the past year.

The Gileff home is roomy, and the two Ukrainian families live on the lower floor. However, there is little in the way of additional space.

David is a lawyer who works from home – his downstairs office has been moved into his family’s living area, and the sheer number of people in the home sometimes makes it hard for him to get his work done.

“At time I have to find ways to get out of the house altogether to get my work done,” he shared.

The family took on the challenge of providing shelter for refugees after their church in North Vancouver became aware of all the challenges facing the refugees who were coming to Canada.

Westland Church is a multicultural church with members speaking English, Russian, and Farsi. In addition to helping Ukrainians, church members are also helping Iranian refugees.

“”We started talking about the needs at church. We learned about people wanting to come to Canada, through social media. Other members were collecting donations of money and clothing, and we have given out a lot of clothing at church. We have helped people find jobs. One of the families with us had jobs waiting for them, when they arrived.”

David said that, as Christians, the Gileff family felt it was their responsibility to help as much as they are able.

RELATED: Maple Ridge committee now helping 31 people from Ukraine

There are always hurdles – language for many, getting proper documents such as medical cards, social insurance numbers and other needed paperwork. The system to get these to refugees has been slow and cumbersome and often the refugees need a lot of help in navigating it.

One of the benefits of living with the Gileffs is that communication is generally pretty good. David is of Ukrainian and Russian background and speaks Russian fluently. That is the main language he uses to communicate with the people in his home.

The Ukrainian children are becoming quite fluent in English and assist with sign language for those who cannot hear.

“The kids are amazing at sign language,” he noted.

The winter weather has been a great bonding experience, with the children enjoying each other’s company outdoors. They generally get along quite well and the experience has been very beneficial for children in all three families.

All three families have already enjoyed some Christmas events at the church and they are looking forward to celebrating Christmas together.

David is asking people to consider taking in refugees, whether from Ukraine or elsewhere.

“If they have the room to take somebody in, please consider it. It is nice to get to know a family and spend time with them. Everyone who has done this has found something rewarding.”

There has been one side benefit – one of the refugee children has also joined the Langley Ukulele Ensemble and his learning to play ukulele through the renowned musical group.

RELATED: Little church with big heart in Maple Ridge raises thousands for Ukrainians displaced by war


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