Valentyn Melnychenko was describing his home town of Odesa, which is located in southern Ukraine.
“It’s a perfect city,” he remarked.
His wife Yuliia agreed, noting that Odesa, near the Black Sea, is a multi-cultural community with many nationalities, “like Canada.”
They were talking about the Odesa that existed before the Russian invasion, before the city became the target of shelling and air strikes, as well as cruise missiles.
It has been two months since they sought safety in Canada.
On Saturday, Jan, 7 the Melnychenkos, along with close to 400 others, celebrated a traditional Ukrainian Christmas, according to the Julian calendar, at Newlands Golf and Country Club in Langley City, an all-volunteer event that aimed to bring together people scattered by the war.
At the table with the Melnychenkos were his parents, Oksana and Oleksandr, who got out about a month ago, along with in-laws and their children who have also found refuge in Canada from their war-torn country.
Sandy Dunkley, the event emcee, offered as “big warm welcome” to the visitors.
“Enjoy this day,” Dunkley said.
“We welcome you with our whole heart.”
One of the volunteers who helped organize the event, Iryna Cepero, has lived in Langley’s Willoughby neighbourhood with her family for two-and-a-half years, but still has relatives in Uzhorod, in western Ukraine.
So far, “just one rocket” has hit the city where her parents and two brothers live, Cepero estimated.
It’s “very stressful” seeing the images from the war, she shared.
“All those names [of cities under attack] are familiar to me,” Cepero said.
She has friends who have lost people to the war.
“Every day, while we are living peacefully here, there is war — every day,” she told the Langley Advance Times.
“Someone is going to die today, defending the front lines.”
Cepero, who worked with orphans in Ukraine, is hoping to get children orphaned by the war to safety, outside Ukraine.
May God help us,” she said.
Two-and-half-year-old Taisiia Zhulin and her mom Zhulina have been in Canada six months, fleeing the devastation in Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, which has been hit by Russian attacks that have killed hundreds and partially or completely destroyed thousands of buildings.
On Saturday, a delighted Taisiia and her mom were able to visit with Santa and pick out presents donated by Kimz Angels and the City of Langley.
Zhulina said her husband Ihor remained in Kharkiv.
“He is working, not fighting,” she explained.
Her brother, Maksim Tumka is a soldier.
“Unfortunately, he was wounded a month ago, he is in the hospital.”
Oleksii Herashchenko came in from Coquitlam with his wife Alisia for the event.
He explained they were on holidays when the war began, and never returned home.
“We went to six countries in Europe, then we decided to come to Canada,” he said.
Herashchenko was grateful for the opportunity to meet fellow countrymen.
“It’s great,” he said. “We are very happy to meet other Ukrainians. It’s emotional for us.”
That was the goal of the event, according to Newlands ambassador Judy Davies, to bring people together.
“I’m so grateful can be a safe haven for these people,” Davies commented.
“But there’s no place like home.”
Former Langley City Mayor Val van den Broek, who is Ukrainian on her father’s side, greeted arrivals to the event in traditional Ukrainian garb. “It’s nice to see everyone coming together,’ van den Broek said.
“We need to do this, to send that positive energy.”
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