‘We were lured to Ukraine’: Families with Ottawa ties return home to Kyiv
For one Ukrainian family, a summer at their cottage near Cornwall, Ontario, was “idyllic.”
Robert and Iryna Grant have spent their time nesting after welcoming their daughter Olivia to Ottawa’s Montfort Hospital in March – five weeks early, which Robert Grant attributes to the stress of their arrival.
The family had always planned to have their daughter in Ottawa, but their plans to leave kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, gained momentum when war talks turned serious in February.
They caught the penultimate Air France flight out of the country.
Robert Grant has dual Canadian-American citizenship and grew up in the United States before moving to Ukraine in the 1990s. The Summerstown, Ontario cottage has been in his family for 160 years.
Her family could visit her there, but none of Iryna’s family could travel from Ukraine.
The cottage was not home, and in the fall the homesickness was overwhelming. Speaking to CBC Radio All in one dayRobert said he had done his risk assessment, spoken to Ukrainian government officials he knew and friends who had already decided to return.
There had been no attacks in Kyiv for about three months at the time, he said.
“We were drawn to Ukraine. I lived there for 28 years. My wife has lived there all her life. So we decided it was the right thing for us,” Grant said.
Missile firing 50 meters from the apartment
Their first week back was “fantastic” and Iryna’s brother threw a welcome party – they had been told to expect a much smaller social circle if they returned, but life seemed pretty normal.
Iryna, a vascular surgeon, got a job at a private clinic in town. But the normality did not last.
On the weekend the Crimean Bridge was attacked, the family was visiting Iryna’s parents 125 kilometers from Kyiv. They went back to their apartment, but Robert had a cold, so he slept in the guest bedroom.
“I woke up around 8 a.m. I heard my wife playing with our daughter in our room, which faces the park… and around 8:24 a.m. I heard a whistle and a first huge explosion,” a- he recounted. All in one day host Alan Neal.
A missile had hit an intersection 250 meters from their apartment.
Iryna grabbed Olivia and the family rushed to the guest bath, which was covered in marble and protected by the meter-thick walls of their century-old building.
A second missile struck 50 meters from their building, leaving a deep crater in the playground in front of their apartment.
“We were playing with our daughter when the missile went off because we didn’t want her to be traumatised. So we’re going ‘boom, boom’. You know what you do for a little kid to make it look like to a game.”
They had agreed on this tactic to calm Olivia down beforehand and Grant said falling into it was automatic.
“The funny thing is that the worst fear was the 30 seconds after the second impact, because I thought in my mind there was a first impact at 250 yards and then 50 yards,” Grant said. .
The courtyard of their apartment served as headquarters for the Territorial Defense Force, which he assumed was the target – but there was no third missile.
The family eventually left the bathroom to find their doors blown out, all their windows shattered, and missile shrapnel in the walls and bed where they were seconds before the explosion.
Robert said he thought it was more likely to have a car accident while driving in Eastern Ontario than to be near a missile strike.
“I was proven wrong in the first 10 days,” he said.
The family have now obtained UK visas and will be staying there – closer to family than in Ottawa – for the foreseeable future.
All in one day11:32A family tries to return to Ukraine from Ottawa
Ukrainians are ‘simply amazing’
Although Grant called his own reasoning wrong, he’s not alone in coming to a similar conclusion.
Chris Glover grew up in the New Edinburgh neighborhood of Ottawa and moved to Ukraine in 2008 to work in the oil industry. He used a similar line of thought when he returned home to Kyiv.
Her family was staying at an AirBnB in Croatia when the family dog was hit by a car.
“I kind of felt that being next to a highway as a refugee is probably more dangerous than being in our apartment in Kyiv right now,” Glover said.
Glover, his wife and two children, aged eight and almost two, returned in June.
“It’s important that people are in the country and paying taxes and keeping businesses alive,” Glover said.
“There won’t be a country left to come back to if all the businesses are closed and all the men who can’t leave the country can’t find work.”
Since their return, Glover said people have been especially kind to each other, smiling in grocery stores and waving people through traffic.
“That’s when you want to be in Ukraine, when the people are just amazing.”
He gave the example of the children gathered in an air-raid shelter sing the song Stephaniewho won the Eurovision Song Contest this year.
At war for “years now”
That doesn’t mean it was all easy. Glover lives near the Grants and was supposed to be in the park when the missile hit.
“We were a little late that morning and I was still shaving when the first missile went off,” he said.
He said perspective is everything when it comes to determining risk.
“This war did not start for us in February. We have been in a country at war for 10 years now.”
He said that as long as they are out of Russian artillery range, which he estimates to be between 40 and 50 kilometers away, he feels relatively safe.
The family would consider leaving if the government – which they say has earned their full trust – asks them to do so for logistical reasons, or if the situation becomes more unstable.
“If things get uncomfortable – I think it will get uncomfortable before it gets dangerous – we’ll probably leave.”