This story is part of the Comox Valley Record’s fall edition of Trio Magazine, published quarterly and available throughout the Comox Valley.
Architects design buildings to be put up. War, on the other hand, tears them down.
This fact of life is all too familiar for Eugen and Oksana Moisieieva, who, like so many, fled Ukraine this year following Russia’s attacks. At first, they held out hope the conflict would be short-lived.
“We thought that maybe in one week it would stop,” says Oksana.
It didn’t, as Eugen shows pictures on his phone of damage caused by tanks rolling through the streets. What he describes as a modern European city was quickly turned to rubble in many areas.
“In Bucha, a lot of people died,” he adds.
Eugen worked as an architect in his native country, while Oksana was the firm’s office manager, but with fighting encroaching on the city, just outside of Kiev, they left with their two daughters, Agnes, 6, and Amina, 4, first to Romania, where they spent a month and a half.
In March, they heard about the program to come to Canada and got a visa in 10 days.
“Now, people wait for two months,” Oksana says.
The trip meant 27 hours of travel between Bucharest, Paris, Munich, Montreal and Vancouver. They arrived in April and are now in Comox where they have been living with their host family, who helped raise their travel money.
“It was a miracle for us,” she adds.
As crucial as having refuge is, the Moisieievas want to work, but this comes with challenges depending on the profession because of certification requirements. Comox’s John Chislett and Vivian Dean Chislett have run their own architecture firm for years, and are at a kind of semi-retirement stage. Of late, they have been working behind the scenes to support Eugen.
“We saw very quickly he’s a very experienced architect,” Vivian says.
The Chisletts are making contacts for Eugen, who has 18 years behind him and had his own firm.
At Sushko Design, he’s working not as full architect but as a home designer and needs to work for a firm for a full year before he can get licensed.
“We introduced him to every architect in town,” she adds.
Another hurdle has been for Oksana to find work, as she also left a career behind. In August, she was hired by the Comox Valley Ukrainian Cultural Society as settlement services co-ordinator to help others from her country. In late July, the Moisieievas estimated there were more than 50 Ukrainians in the Comox Valley and about 300 on Vancouver Island.
Already, the couple is adapting to life in Canada, and two other relatives have also come to Vancouver Island, but others stayed behind. Perhaps the most visible change is in the girls. Vivian notes that when family arrived, the girls were quiet and standoffish. In the Chisletts’ backyard on a sunny summer day, the two are running, playing, stopping for fruit snacks, as any kid would do.
The Chisletts’ view is there needs to be a long-term plan for Comox Valley communities to help people like Eugen and Oksana who are bringing skills and entrepreneurship.
“It’s important that we talk about the assets they bring,” Vivian says. “I think this is opening a bigger conversation for us.”
As she adds, the community needs to go beyond the generosity of gifts and temporary refuge to include more permanent homes, but even more importantly, opportunities to support people who want to work and especially start their own businesses to then employ others.
For the Moisieievas, that is the dream now — to build a life in Canada.
“We have such experience, and we’d like to do it here,” Oksana says.