Read the story transcript
As the war in Ukraine makes contact with family increasingly difficult, a travel agent in British Columbia is using her connections to help Canadians connect with loved ones and confirm that they are safe.
“Canadians are desperate,” said Myrna Arychuk, a Ukrainian-born tour guide based in Chilliwack, B.C., who has spent 30 years helping Canadians trace their family history and visit missing relatives. for a long time in Ukraine.
“They want to know where they are. Are they in a bunker? Have they been to Poland? Do they have food? Are they safe? Do they need money?” she says.
These Canadian families may not have been in contact with their distant relatives for a few years and now find that the old phone numbers no longer work.
For the past two weeks, Arychuk has spent hours on the phone every day, using his connections to find those loved ones. But when she has them on the phone, they don’t ask for money or material help, she says.
“The family in Ukraine is so grateful. They cry when they think their family hasn’t forgotten them,” Arychuk said. The flow Matt Galloway.
“It’s emotional. I have to hang up and have to take a minute.”
The UN human rights office said on Friday it had confirmed the death toll of 331 civilians and 675 injured since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, although it added that the true toll was probably much higher. At least a million people have been displaced.
Even before war broke out last week, Arychuk was helping Canadians alarmed by rising tensions, including Muryl Geary, a retired family history researcher in Vancouver.
Geary grew up in Canada, but has cousins on his father’s side in a small town about 100 kilometers south of Lviv. Arychuk arranged Geary’s first trip there, and she’s been there five times over the years.
Now in the late 80s, Geary hasn’t seen them since 2002, but still shows up about once a year.
When her cousins’ phone number didn’t work about a month ago, she contacted Arychuk, who called on his longtime collaborator Ruslan Cholovskyy, a tour guide based in the town of Ternopil, in western Ukraine.
“The next thing I knew I got a message that Ruslan had gone to the village,” said Geary, who has published a book, Find your Ukrainian ancestorsin 2000 under his Ukrainian name Muryl Andrejciw.
“He had seen the family and everything was fine, and he had a new phone number for me, which was really amazing,” she said. The flow.
“I was so relieved to hear that and so grateful.”
Geary and his cousins exchanged emails and stayed in touch for weeks after.
“Then the line went silent. No one has answered since the last [week],” she says.
If they haven’t started bombing that area, and if he thinks it’s safe enough, he might be able to get to the village.– Muryl Geary, about the tour guide Ruslan Cholovskyy
Geary sent messages urging his cousins to come to Canada if they can, assuring them that their family here will help them in any way possible.
She said it was terrible to wait for an answer and to know if they were okay, but Cholovskyy offered to try to reach them again.
“If they haven’t started bombing that area, and if he feels it’s safe enough, maybe he can go to the village and see how they’re doing,” Geary said.
“And then I can get an email. I’m waiting for that.”
WATCH | Canada will accept an unlimited number of Ukrainian refugees
Arychuk grateful to be able to help
After years of working with Arychuk, Cholovskyy knows where to go and who to ask to find a specific family.
“In Ukraine we have [a] saying: your language helps you find the way to Kiev,” he said.
So far, the fighting has not reached its part of western Ukraine, but travel remains tricky due to checkpoints on the road and the risk of spreading violence. But he will drive out into the countryside to find people – if it’s safe – because he wants to help people who are worried about their loved ones.
“Everyone does what they can. Someone fights, someone collects food or money,” he said.
“You have to do what you can do.”
Arychuk said she was also grateful for the chance to help, as she knows “it’s really important to know that they’re okay there.”
Tour guides also recently helped Dalia Maziar, a Vancouver woman with an aunt and two cousins, and their children and grandchildren, in Lviv.
Maziar met her extended family in 2002, when she, her sister and her mother all traveled to Ukraine on a trip organized by Arychuk.
When she tried to contact them recently, her calls went unanswered. But Cholovskyy was able to find them and they contacted her via Whatsapp with a new number.
“As of this morning they are fine, but they are very stressed and scared,” Maziar said. The flow Friday.
She said it was reassuring to be in touch, but also underlined how far away she felt.
“What can you tell them? I’m sorry, we’re praying for you. Stay strong. You know, it doesn’t seem like enough, like you feel helpless,” she said.
PICTURES | What happens on day 9 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine:
She was able to tell her family what she sees in the news in Canada and keep them informed of the options available to them if they decide to leave Lviv.
“You don’t want to scare them, they don’t want to scare you. But you want to be honest as much as you can and help as much as you can,” she said.
“It’s a very difficult balance.”
Maziar would like to thank Arychuk and Cholovskyy for helping to keep the lines of communication open. Geary agrees, saying she would “give them the biggest hugs in the world because they gave hope to so many people” separated by war.
“They have their own life and they have a family that they care about, yet they went the extra mile to help out when it was needed for someone else,” Geary said.
“They are amazing people. Absolutely amazing people.”
Written by Padraig Moran. Interview with Myrna Arychuk and Ruslan Cholovskyy directed by Matt Meuse, with additional files by Padraig Moran.