Wellesley couple hosting Ukrainian family

  • Community   Fri, Jul 1st, 2022   Veronica Reiner
The Gurtovyi family from Ukraine have been residing at the Wellesley home of Lisa Weiler Haskins and Rich Hamming since June 8. The family consists of Eugene, Tetiana and their two daughters, Liza and Angelina. (Photo credit: Veronica Reiner)

The Gurtovyi family from Ukraine have been residing at the Wellesley home of Lisa Weiler Haskins and Rich Hamming since June 8. The family consists of Eugene, Tetiana and their two daughters, Liza and Angelina. (Photo credit: Veronica Reiner)

By Veronica Reiner
Wellesley couple Lisa Weiler Haskins and Rich Hamming are hosting their home to a Ukrainian family of four, the Gurtovyi.
Tetiana, Eugene, and their two daughters, Liza and Angelina, moved into the residence on Nithbank Road on June 8. Their entire lives were flipped upside down on February 23, when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The Gurtovyis witnessed bombs going off in their home city and the girl’s former school was destroyed. Tetiana and her daughters left their home city of Kharkiv, Ukraine in a hurry around early March and met up with Eugene in The Czech Republic where he was working.
The family is four out of about 12 million Ukrainians forced to flee the country as a result of the war.
“I want to say thank you so much to our host Lisa, she is amazing,” said Tetiana. “Thank you for welcoming us and giving us a place to stay. Thank you Canada for helping us… Lisa and Richard are very supportive of us.”
Before the war began, Tetiana worked at a pension office, Eugene worked as a forklift operator, Angelina was in school, and Liza had just graduated from highschool and was preparing for university.
The family left the Czech Republic and headed to Germany to say goodbye to Eugene’s sister and niece who fled there when the war started, then they made their way to Canada.
Liza said much of the information about the war has been obtained from the app Telegram. “People in our city of Kharkiv share videos and photos of what’s going on every day.”
The Gurtovyi family worries about their own family members - for example, Tetiana’s parents are in a Russian-occupied province in Ukraine. “Everyday when I think about Ukraine and my parents, I feel pain. Why are children, women and old people dying? Why are civilians dying in this incomprehensible war?”
On the day of the interview on Tuesday, June 21, Russian forces fired on Kharkiv residential and industrial zones, killing five people and injuring 11.
“I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that they are resilient, but they’ve got a lot of worry, and I’m sure their journey to Canada hasn’t been easy,” said Weiler Haskins. “As a parent I can only imagine how difficult this has been.”
The housing arrangement was made possible through the Waterloo Region Grassroots Response to the Ukrainian Crisis group of which Lisa is a volunteer. The group consists of residents in the Waterloo Region who are working to prepare support and resources for the arrival of displaced people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine. Their support involves housing and providing tangible resources such as clothing, food, transportation and more. There are almost 40 host families in the region connected to the grassroots group.
After attending several housing webinars and learning about the settlement agencies in our region, Lisa and Richard decided they wanted to become a host family. A video call was set up through a Ukrainian Buddy from the Waterloo Region Grassroots Response group and with the help of the buddy, the two families chatted for about an hour. They kept in touch using a translation app and made arrangements for pick up from the airport.
“I was mostly talking to Liza, because she could understand some English - they had no idea,” explained Weiler Haskins. “So we pull up at Pearson, and they get in our truck… It was blind faith; they had to trust everything would be okay.”
The Gurtovyis family now stays in the spacious 750 square foot basement level of the home, which includes two bedrooms, a bathroom, a television, couch, pool table, air hockey table, and more.
On top of the support from Waterloo Region Grassroots ‘host buddies’ and friends and family, there were many residents in the Wellesley community that stepped up to help out.
“I reached out to Mayor Joe Nowak and his wife Barb, and said, ‘hey, this is what we’re doing,’” said Weiler Haskins, and asked whether any support could be provided.
“It’s been amazing. I actually had to say ‘we’re good for now,’ because we had such an outpouring of support,” said Weiler Haskins. A small fridge, kitchen supplies, towels, gift cards, financial donations, a lap quilt and groceries are just some of the items that were donated to get the space ready for the Gurtovyis.
Since arriving in Wellesley, the Gurtovyi family has been going for long walks around town, taking photos, meeting other Ukrainian or Russian-speaking people in the neighbourhood, as well as attending local events such as the 10th anniversary of the Wellesley splash pad and the duck race. Tetiana says, “Wellesley is a wonderful village! Kind, helpful and hospitable people live here. Everyone says hello and asks how you are doing.”
They also love to cook, including traditional Ukrainian dishes such as borscht, a sour soup made with red beetroots and share their meals with their hosts.
Weiler Haskins said she has loved the experience so far and would be happy to help out other families in need in the future, especially with the outpouring of support from those around them.
“There’s going to be another war that comes - the Ukrainian crisis is going to die down and then what’s the next war?” “Richard and I have said I think we could keep doing this. I think we could keep housing people no matter where they’re from.”
“It’s definitely changed us so much.”