Their adopted country for the holidays: Ukrainians celebrate Orthodox Christmas in Toronto

Alina Gladchenko never thought she would fulfill her dream of coming to Toronto with her family after Russia’s war with Ukraine began.

The family had planned to immigrate to Canada, but the war was a sudden catalyst for which they were unprepared.

And her posts on nearly a dozen Facebook sites looking for a host family received so much negative feedback about the city — the expense, the cold, Winnipeg would be better — that she deleted them afterward. two weeks.

It was a last chance to see her missive on social media that prompted Toronto’s Olena Veryha to invite the Ukrainian family of three to live with her.

Now, five months later, they sit in the basement of the Veryha home, with Gladchenko’s young son Tisha playing nearby, just days before the Gladchenko family celebrates their first Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas on Saturday at the Canada.

“I’ve been thinking about my family for the past two weeks,” said Gladchenko, 31, speaking in English and Ukrainian, with Veryha as a translation. “And all those times in Kyiv where we go to our family. We meet my brothers and sisters, my grandmother and my grandfather. It’s family day for us, because all my family members work very hard.

Since March 17 last year, the government has received more than 750,000 applications for temporary residence and approved nearly 480,000, according to a Canadian government website.

On Friday, Gladchenko and her husband, Seva, along with other guests, celebrated the traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve feast at Veryha’s table, taking part in 12 dishes that are part of the “holy dinner”.

On Christmas Day – Saturday, according to the Julian calendar – Gladchenko said she planned to spend the day on the phone, talking to her large family, including 10 brothers and half-siblings, who fled to countries like Dubai, Spain, Poland — “the whole world,” says Gladchenko.

“I’m very happy because they’re safe,” Gladchenko says, “but it’s sad for me because they can all meet because they’re in Europe or in Dubai. And we are too far from all our family.

Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas falls on January 7 and New Year’s Day on January 14, for those following the Julian calendar. But many parishes across the country began observing Christmas on December 25 according to the Gregorian calendar, which is used by the Western world, and New Year’s Day on January 1.

Both Veryha and Gladchenko say they are not particularly religious, but this year’s holiday held a deeper spiritual meaning for them.

“Everyone is praying for victory and for peace,” says Veryha, who was born in Canada to Ukrainian parents.

“The the whole country is our family. We are all worried about them,” she said. “And any news that comes out, it’s honestly, it’s like a dagger in your heart when you see hospitals being bombed. And schools are bombed, universities, daycare centers. Pregnant women have been killed. infants were killed.

Veryha says she recently spoke to a cousin in a part of Ukraine that hadn’t seen much bombing and wished her a “happy new year”.

Alina Gladchenko, husband Seva and son Tisha pose for a photo at Olena Veryha's home near High Park in Toronto.

But his cousin said Ukrainians don’t use the typical New Year’s greeting, instead wishing “good health, victory and peace”, says Veryha. “Those are the three things they want for 2023 and continuing.”

Gladchenko also has relatives living in the war-torn country.

His mother is in Russian-occupied Crimea, in an apartment she did not leave for three months after anti-Ukrainian graffiti appeared in the hall. And Gladchenko’s husband’s mother and brother live in Kyiv.

Gladchenko left Kyiv the day after the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022. Her husband was already out of the county working in Moldova.

She packed up Tisha, who will be three at the end of January, and the family’s Bengal cat, and embarked on a three-day trip to meet her husband in Romania. From there, the couple went to Poland, where Tisha’s godfather helped them find an apartment and child care.

In March, the family received a special visa to come to Canada, but they continued to work in Poland to save money for the trip to Canada, which they planned for the fall.

It was in August that Gladchenko began looking for a host family in Toronto, posting on numerous Facebook websites along with other Ukrainians looking to find a new home.

“I tried to find a host for maybe two weeks,” says Gladchenko. “And I make the decision to delete all these posts because too much hate. It was too hard.

Tisha Gladchenko is pictured at Olena Veryha's home near High Park in Toronto.

And then Veryha reached out to Gladchenko.

“‘Hi. I have a basement. I’ve finished renovating this basement and can welcome you for the first time,” Gladchenko read. “And I think, you know, it can’t can’t be true because I’ve been trying so long to find someone and it’s so easy “Please come live with us?”

Veryha, however, was a kindred spirit. Her father fought in the resistance army in Ukraine during World War II before being captured and held as a prisoner of war in Italy. Her mother fled the country and ended up in a displaced persons camp in Germany. Her parents eventually met in England, then came to Canada where they married.

But Gladchenko didn’t know about Veryha when she was waiting for her flight to Canada at Warsaw airport. And she still couldn’t believe that someone could be so generous or that Veryha was really there to pick her up when she arrived.

Gladchenko spent his time waiting for his flight looking for cheap Airbnbs in Toronto.

But Veryha was there. She says Gladchenko’s message was the first she read and she knew right away that she wanted to help them.

“I’ll tell you what it was,” Veryha said. “One, they had a child. Two, they came in tow with a cat. And I thought this family was going to have a hard time finding accommodation with a young child,” she says. “And the cat.”

“I was like, ‘This is my family because I can help them.'”

Alina Gladchenko, her husband Seva and her son Tisha.

In fact, it took the family longer to settle in than Gladchenko initially thought after posting on Facebook looking for a host for two to four weeks.

Her husband, trained in microelectronics, sent out hundreds of resumes every day for three months after the family arrived. Only three interviews materialized, but one of them resulted in a job and he is working on a three-month contract. The hope is that he will find another one-year contract.

Gladchenko worked for 12 years as a beautician. She plans to return to work once her husband finds a more permanent job and the family finds an apartment.

But Gladchenko says they have no regrets coming here.

The Torontonians were “incredible,” she says. And after a brief conversation in Ukrainian, Veryha translates to him: “Open, transparent, very good people.


Conversations are the opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of conduct. The Star does not share these opinions.

Comments are closed.