Yevhen Shepotilynk couldn’t believe his eyes when he looked at a recent video of his apartment building in war-shattered Mariupol, Ukraine.
The 28-year-old Ukrainian citizen, who is now living in the Cowichan Valley, said all the windows were blown out of the building after many weeks of intense bombing by Russian forces and there was evidence of fires everywhere.
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“Incredibly, people are still living in that building, but they have no food, water or medicine,” Shepotilynk said.
“I would like to return to Ukraine for a visit, but not until this war is over.”
Shepotilynk had been working in a factory in Warsaw, Poland, for 11 months and taking computer classes when Russian troops began the invasion of his homeland in February.
He said he has relatives still in Ukraine, including two brothers who went to the less war-torn western regions of the country in an effort to escape the bombing that has almost completely destroyed Mariupol and other cities.
Shepotilynk said he knew he would be welcome in many western European countries as a refugee from the war, but it was always a big dream of his to come to Canada, so he filled out an application for a visa in mid March.
His name was then listed on Ukrainehelpvi.ca, a Victoria-based website that reaches out to those interested in hosting refugees of the Russian invasion on Vancouver Island, and he was connected to Nick Woywitka, a local businessman of Ukrainian descent.
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Woywitka said he applied to be a host because he wanted to help out the people of Ukraine in any way he could.
He said he was connected up with Shepotilynk for a Zoom meeting and they chatted for about a half an hour.
“We saw each other’s faces and I decided I wanted to host him,” Woywitka said.
“A day later, I got him scheduled on flights from Warsaw to Vancouver and he caught the ferry to Swartz Bay on April 27.”
Woywitka said Shepotilynk has a work visa for three years, and he has hired him to work at his business, Duncan’s Nicon Developments Ltd.
He said Shepotilynk started at his new job just four days after he arrived in the Cowichan Valley, and is interested in continuing his studies here.
As Shepotilynk doesn’t yet have a drivers’s licence, Will Arnold, the owner of Experience Cycling, has supplied him with a bike so he can get back and forth to work.
Shepotilynk said he wants to become a Canadian citizen, and is considering settling in the area.
“I like nature, mountains and the ocean,” he said.
“They are good for me. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but this is a really great place.”