His mother is still in Ukraine and he says it feels like a “big black hole inside me”.
“It’s like your heart is falling into your body.”
This is how Denys Brovenko describes the first time Russia invaded Ukraine.
The 37-year-old is from Odessa, Ukraine, but was spending time in Turkey when he received the news on Telegram, an instant messaging app that has become increasingly popular in Eastern Europe .
While he was away from home when the war broke out, all of his family and friends were in Ukraine.
“It’s painful…it’s a big black hole inside me,” he says. Vancouver is awesome. “There is no way to explain the feelings.”
When Brovenko and his wife Valentina Movika arrived in British Columbia in mid-April, he says he was warmly welcomed by the local community. “We were so happy to see the Ukrainian flags.”
The couple were connected with a foster family through United Way British Columbia and with support from a non-profit organization called Help Us Help Ukraine.
“We don’t know how to thank them for their kindness,” he said, adding that the host family had been so supportive.
Van Erickson and Jennifer Buckland welcomed Ukrainian refugees to their basement on UBC endowment land after seeing a news report.
“We saw it on TV one night. The Ukrainians were sleeping at the airport because they had no place to stay,” Buckland says.
This is not the first time the couple have opened their home to people in need. Several years ago, a family of four from Nelson stayed with them after their home was destroyed by a wildfire; they also welcomed a woman who fled the conflict in Syria.
But when the host couple first bought the house about 25 years ago, it didn’t include a basement suite for guests.
“We were renovating, my husband and I did most of the work ourselves…but the house caught fire one day,” Buckland said. GOING THROUGH
The house was destroyed by fire and the couple had to completely rebuild it from scratch – and that included adding a basement suite.
“We got a better long-term house and put a small suite there because we thought it might [turn out to be] useful.”
While she may not have imagined hosting refugees fleeing conflict overseas, Buckland says the experience is very rewarding and the couple would do it again.
The Vancouver hosts helped the Ukrainian couple at first, but they were “very independent from the start,” she adds.
Couple move to Vancouver after Russian invasion of Ukraine
Since moving to Vancouver, Brovenko has gotten a full-time job and bought a car. His hometown, Odessa, shares many similarities with Vancouver, which made the move easier, he says.
“I lived near the sea and near the mountains.”
But while he appreciates all the help he’s received in Vancouver, the city is simply not home to Ukrainians.
“I really like Odessa,” he says. “I really like the people here… [they] are so nice… but home is home. This is the place where you [grew up].
“You always want to be back where your memories [are from and] where your childhood friends [are].”
However, Brovenko’s wife is pregnant, so the couple do not foresee the possibility of moving for at least a few years – but the timing also depends on the war.
For now, the Ukrainian’s heart aches for his homeland and for his friends and family who remained there, including his mother in Odessa.
In one incident, Brovenko says his friend was captured by the Russians and forced to join their army. He was able to escape by giving an officer a $10,000 bribe, but they took his papers and he cannot cross the border back to Ukraine.
Stories like this are not an anomaly, he points out, adding that many of them are worse.
“I want all Ukrainians to start leading a happy life.”