My father stood in the kitchen when he told us we would be leaving for good; it took until we started packing for me to fully understand that he really meant it. He had been trying for years to find a way out of the Ukraine, but to no avail. I was only seven at the time, and didn’t really understand why we had to leave or why Grandma and Grandpa couldn’t join us.
My parents’ stories tell me that our life was not an easy one. After the Soviet Union fell, the concept of safety was a foreign one. There were huge lineups for everything from toilet paper to milk; starvation was prevalent. Crime rates also went up exponentially: it was not uncommon to be robbed or even killed for the apparent crime of carrying groceries home.
Despite all of this, when I think of my life in the Ukraine, I think of the rich culture and traditions that filled my childhood. I am fortunate enough to live somewhere where I can buy the food of my home country, but it never tastes quite right: maybe my nostalgia taints the taste. Even though I can’t remember Ukraine as vividly as I’d like, there is still a sense of comfort and familiarity that comes with memories of home.
When we first arrived in Canada, I couldn’t quite decide if I liked it here or not. In hindsight, I’m able to appreciate how much safer and more free it was here. However, when you’re seven, your concerns are often limited to if the kids in class are mean to you (they were). I took English Second Language (ESL) classes daily, but when you eat different food, wear different clothes, and speak a different language, not much patience was extended to me from my fellow classmates. Often finding daily life overwhelming, I sought my escape in the pages of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. Every week, I’d sign out a new stack of books and fill the hours after class with my own fantastical journeys. I wish I could go back in time to comfort that little girl who just wanted to make friends, but had to find them folded in the pages of books instead; I’d tell her it would all be ok that she just needs to safeguard hope.
The years that followed were challenging but improved with time. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the whole immigration process was seeing how my parents struggled. In the Ukraine, they both had masters degrees and steady jobs. There was no direct equivalent for their qualifications in Canada; I watched as they took night shifts and minimum wage jobs for years until they both found jobs in their fields of interest.
Just as life improved for my parents, it did for me as well. Upon graduating high school, I attended the University of Alberta for a Bachelor’s degree in economics. All of this in mind, I would have to say that I am most proud of the close circle of friends I have established over the years. I have a safe place to call home filled with people I love. I like to think that seven year old me would be both happy and proud to hear that I have chosen my own adventure here in Canada and made it my own.
Please note that certain facts have been altered for anonymity
This story is a collaborative effort between Skye Baxter and Natasha Baran