Ukrainian family thankful to be in CBS

By Mark Squibb/May 19, 2022

Artem and Yana Lysychuk begin each morning much the same way — with a battle.

“Each day starts with checking our phone, and each morning is the same situation,” said Artem. “Each morning, you wake up, and you hope, you hope that everything is alright. And everyday, it’s like a challenge to check the phone.”

The Lysychuks hail from Kolomyia, Ukraine, but now call Conception Bay South home.

Refugees of the ongoing Russian invasion, the family narrowly escaped the country on February 24, the day that Russian president Vladimir Putin declared war on Ukraine.

“The decision to leave was made weeks before the war started, because we saw this Russian army around our borders, and we knew that there would be a war, but we didn’t know the date, so we decided to be prepared,” said Artem.

Dr. Rev. Fred Penney, lead pastor of Elim Pentecostal Tabernacle, was instrumental in brining the family to Topsail.

Raised in Topsail, Penney spent about 35 years in Ontario as a pastor and part time professor at a Christian theological school, Tyndale University. Through his work and church contacts, he made connections with theological institutions in Ukraine. He made his first teaching trip to Ukraine in 2000 and has been flying back every year or so as his schedule permits.

“When I met this couple, Artem and his wife, they were students, 20-year-old students,” said Penney. “Now they’re 32 years old and are married and have three children, so I have known them for that long, and other students, longer than that… They heard that Canada was accepting Ukrainians, so we connected. And I said we would help them in any way we can, and that’s how it all started.”

For a man with such a close relationship to the country and its people, watching the horror unfold has been emotional and overwhelming.

“When the opportunity came to help this family, we thought it was a real practical way to help,” said Penney. “Because when you look at the news, you feel like, ‘What can I do?’ Because it’s so big, and so overwhelming, and so tragic. So, the opportunity to help this one particular family start a new life was a no brainer.”

The family of five arrived near the beginning of May, from Ukraine, via Italy, where they had stayed for about eight weeks awaiting entrance into Canada.

“Fred, and this church, they helped a lot,” said Artem. “If there was no Fred, or no church, we would not be here.”

The Penneys have welcomed the Lysychuks into their home, with Fred and his wife Valerie living in the upstairs quarters, while the family live in the downstairs quarters.

“People are really kind and open to us, they’re welcoming us very nicely,” said Yana. “Fred and his family gave us his house so we can live together in happiness. It’s really nice. And people here at church, people try to encourage and say a good word and ask what we need and try to help. It makes you feel safe and comfortable and welcomed. We like it here.”

But along with those feelings of security, comes a little guilt, as the couple think of family members who remain in Ukraine, while they reside in safety.

“I try not to look at photos or videos, but I do read the news,” said Yana. “Sometimes we feel guilty, because we’re here and safe. And at the same time in Ukraine, bad stuff is going on, really bad stuff. But we understand that God is providing. We have kids, and we need to move on. We can’t just always feel guilty and be stressed. We need to be first of all thankful to God, and the people here, and move on. And of course, pray for Ukraine, pray for the people, our relatives, and friends.  That’s what we can do for now, we can’t just feel guilty and sorry all the time.”

Yana added the outward displays of solidarity with the Ukraine people, the raised flags and messages and murals, seen through the metro area and beyond, are encouraging and uplifting.

“People know what is going on, and how serious it is,” said Yana. “They are praying, they understand that God is in control, and he can help. All the Ukrainian flags and support, it makes you feel good because people are aware of Ukraine and our needs. So, it’s good, it’s good that people know what’s going on.”

“On Rostyslav’s second day of school he told me that he forgot where his class was,” said Artem. ‘I told him, ‘You need to look at the door that has the Ukrainian flags around it.’”

Several members of the Elim church community, and members of the community at large, have helped with donations of food and clothing, and for this help the family is grateful.

“I read Newfoundland is famous because of its welcoming people, and now we have experienced that,” said Artem.

“People are ready to give, to donate, to help, and we just need to learn to accept all that help,” said Yana.

Artem, a former army chaplain who has also worked in sales, is looking for a job to provide for his family. To that end, Penney said the family’s key need is for a vehicle, so they can drive both to work and to the grocery store.

Penney has started a GoFundMe, titled ‘Ukrainian family coming to Canada,’ to raise funds for a vehicle.

“The critical need is a job, and money to purchase a vehicle so that he can get to work,” said Penney.

Artem and Yana said the children are adjusting well to their new home, but that speaking with them about the war is difficult.

“It’s not easy for them,” said Artem. “We try to be honest with them, and explain in a kid’s way, what’s going on. Because we want them also to be thankful to God, to be thankful for people.”

He said the entire journey, from crossing the border into Romania, and then onto France and finally to their new home in Newfoundland, has been guided by God’s hand, and he’s amazed at the number of people who have offered their homes or financial help along the way.

“All of the way, it was God’s help, and church support,” said Artem. “And He can use all of us to help each other in many, many great ways.”

Though most North Americans recognise Ukraine by the scenes of warfare blasted across TV screens of late, the couple describe Ukraine as a beautiful country with productive soil, and a safe place to raise children.

Ukraine regained its independence with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Today’s war can be traced to Russian’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. That annexation came on the tail of widespread civil unrest within Ukraine after the government’s discussion to not sign a political association and free trade agreement with the European Union but instead choose to align closer with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union. The protest, known as the Revolution of Dignity, or the Maidan Revolution, resulted in the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych and the overthrow of the Ukrainian government.

“They’ve been oppressed for much of the last hundred years,” said Penney. “They gained their independence in 1991, so they’ve had what, 30, 31 years, and now here we go with Russian oppressing and invading.”

“And what was the Soviet Union? It was Russian,” added Artem. “So, they conquered us 100 years ago, and they’re trying to do it again.”

Penney said he remains in contact with many Ukraine families, some of whom have fled, others who remain in the country.

“When you called, I was on a call with another family in Ukraine,” said Penney. “The dad works in Lviv, and he has four children, and they have sent their children to Spain for about two months… and he’s working in Lviv and said that overnight there were four missiles that were targeted at Lviv, and two were intercepted and two hit targets. So, he’s working in a city that is being randomly attacked by missiles.”

The Pennys are aiding another Ukrainian family whose four-year old son was diagnosed with cancer just as the war was starting.

“They went first to Poland, and then to Italy, where the son is receiving chemo treatment,” said Penney.

The Lysychuks, meanwhile, say they are thankful for each and everyone who has aided them in anyway.

“We want to thank everyone,” said Artem. “First of all, to Fred and Valerie and the church… and to all who donated and helped us to get here. And we’re thankful for the Canadian government for this opportunity, for this program for us.”

“We are thankful that we are here, that we get a chance to meet all of these beautiful people, that we have Pastor Fred and his family, that they’re welcoming us, and accepting us,” said Yana. “So, we’re thankful, and we’re trusting God with our future, and we just know that He’ll provide, and He’ll take care of us.”

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