Steve Stadnyk, of Elgin Street in Welland, lived alone, his sons having grown up and left the nest.
That all changed last September.
“I was sitting in my big house during the pandemic, watching TV coverage of the war in Ukraine that had intensified, and just felt I should do something,” he said.
Stadnyk, who has some Ukrainian ancestry, did an online search of agencies that assisted families displaced from war zones in the country, and indicated his interest in housing a Ukrainian family that had landed in Canada.
For months, he heard nothing.
“Then on September fifth, I got a call from the organization, and four days later they were here,” said Stadnyk.
“They” are the Bap family: husband and wife Roman and Mariana, and their children Mark (age 6) and Mia (age 2). Until February of 2022, they lived in an apartment in a small village near Lviv, located in western Ukraine, far away from the fighting in the east, in the Donbas and Crimea. Roman, a craftsman involved in construction work, had taken a job in Trier, Germany, and Mariana was at home with the kids. As the threat of combat and missile strikes crept closer, Mariana bundled up her children and a few possessions, and made a three-day trip to the Polish border. They managed to cross over and spent several weeks with an aunt, before reuniting with Roman in Germany.
Mariana had been a nutritionist and baker in Ukraine, and had learned some English during her university studies. Her husband’s fluency is very basic. She and Roman had relatives in Canada, including Roman’s brother, and had heard glowing reports of the quality of life and safety in this country. They made the decision to emigrate, and a friend in Germany helped them with the visa application process.
Eventually, they landed in Toronto, but after a few months found it too expensive. A volunteer organization online, staffed by Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish-speaking people, helped them connect with Stadnyk.
“We are very happy here in Welland,” said Mariana, who referred to Stadnyk as “our second family,” and praised the Canadians she has encountered in everyday life as “kind and wonderful people.”
The Baps have connected with other Ukrainian families in Welland and neighbouring municipalities for support and shared communication with loved ones back in Europe. Roman found work at Rankin Construction (where Stadnyk also is employed), and qualified for a driver’s license. Mariana is pleased that Mark’s school, Ross Public School, is just a short walk down Niagara Street.
“The principal and teachers have been very supportive,” she added.
Another great source of support has been the Fenwick United Church, which provided cash donations, clothing, and other domestic items for the Baps. Siga van Bruchem, the wife of the church’s pastor, has Latvian roots, and accordingly speaks some Russian which she learned in her youth. She has been a huge help for the Baps in translating necessary documents, allowing the Baps to get a bank account, credit card, and medical care. A yoga group at the Welland Arena also generously provided cash, clothing, and toys for the family.
“One of Mariana’s talents is that she is a wonderful cook and baker, producing a spectrum of beautiful and delicious cakes, which she has shared with the church congregation,” said van Bruchem.
The family’s plan is to stay in Welland and build a new life in Canada. Mariana would like to have a business selling her cakes, but also wants to enroll in an English as a Second Language program to boost her fluency. This would require childcare for young Mia, and she is desperately in search of a suitable arrangement.
For his part, Stadnyk enjoys the company around the house, and has been treated to some wonderful European cuisine like Ukrainian borscht soup, and Mariana’s scrumptious cakes.
“My children love [Stadnyk] and refer to him as ‘Diadko,’ which is Ukrainian for ‘Uncle,’” said Mariana.
Meanwhile, back in Lviv, the Bap’s apartment is still occupied, housing other Ukrainians displaced from their homes in the war zone of eastern Ukraine.