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Ukrainians in Gibsons discuss the war with Russia

Jennie Tschoban

Gibsons’ Jennie Tschoban was four years old when she and her family fled their Ukrainian hometown into the Carpathian mountains to evade the Russian advance in 1944. They hid in the mountains for weeks – the child asking to go home when she realized this wasn’t camping. 

The family of six kids and two parents eventually went by train through Austria to Germany. By then it was winter and they stayed in displaced persons camps. They stayed in Germany – Tschoban’s parents and sisters working in factories, eventually earning enough to pay passage to Canada in 1949. They landed at Pier 21 in Halifax February 23, 1949. Seventy-three years, nearly to the day, after her arrival in Canada, Tschoban watched coverage of Russia invading Ukraine. 

“All I’ve known is Canada and freedom. And then to see this, again…”

Tschoban doesn’t like to watch the buildings being bombarded. She remembers being a child refugee, watching buildings in Hamburg being bombed. 

“When you start thinking back to what you experienced when you were a little girl, I was four years old. Four and a half. I see the little kids now and I just want to cry.

“But what for?”

 Though life in Canada saw moments of poverty (“There were days when we had bread and water,” says Tcshoban), that was OK. “There was nobody there to kill us. There was nobody there to do any harm to us, to take us back.”

When she sees a soldier these days, Tschoban thanks them for our freedom.  

Jennie Tschoban is author of "Kapusta or Cabbage: A Mother and Daughter Historical and Culinary Journey" and "Tales & Lies my Baba" told me, where she tells some of the stories from her childhood. 

The Anico-Taveras family

Daria Anico-Taveras had just returned from her once-a-month trip to Vancouver for supplies and was unloading her car that Wednesday evening when her 17-year-old daughter ran into the garage. “It’s started,” she screamed.

They all knew what “it” meant. 

Anico-Taveras finished unloading the car, five last minutes in denial, hoping the news wasn’t true. 

For days, they’d been checking the news feeds and social media – as tensions between Russia and Ukraine came to a head – not ever believing Russia would actually invade. 

Daria and Daniel Anico-Taveras and their five kids – 11, 13, 16, 17 and 22 – immigrated to Gibsons from Ukraine in 2020 and opened the education centre Ideas Space in Upper Gibsons. 

While the family has also lived in the Dominican Republic, where Daniel is from, they have strong roots in Ukraine. 

In the past week, the kids have watched their old home town become a war zone. “We talk to adults, they talk to the kids they went to school with and who are still in school,” said Anico-Taveras.

“Everyone is in the worst position in their life [in Ukraine].”

Anico-Taveras was born in the Soviet Union – the daughter of a math and mechanics teacher and a German language teacher – and got to observe the development of Ukrainian independence. “When I was 11 years old, the territory I lived on became officially Ukraine.

“People felt how oppressed they were, how deprived from basic freedoms they were, so we celebrated the independence.”

The Soviet era is not something Anico-Taveras would want to see return. But to watch Russian TV, one would see a different story. 

“They try to say that we are violent and not friendly, when, of course, it’s not true. And they say that our president is not elected in a democratic way. When the opposite is true. 

“They live in a bubble of propaganda and lies.”

One of the pieces of disinformation circulating in Russia is that the Russian-speaking population is under threat, said Anico-Taveras. But she’s from a traditionally Russian region, and she said she’d never felt any hostility anywhere in Ukraine based on her language or cultural preferences. “Ukraine is a super multicultural nation. We accept and we celebrate many people.”

She wants to see the people in Russia stand up to their leaders now that the leaders have shown their stripes. Though, she also notes that Russian citizens too are victims of oppression. 

When living in Ukraine, the Anico-Taveras family was in Kharkiv, one of the cities now under sustained attack, just 40 kilometres from the Russian border and which has a robust production industry. The family runs two small hotels in the city (and another in the Dominican Republic). While one of their Kharkiv hotels is closed, the other one, as of Feb. 26, was still running “because of incredibly brave employees,” said Anico-Taveras. There were guests at the hotel the night the invasion started,  who tried and couldn’t leave the city. There were also refugees from other affected areas, coming to stay at the hotel. Employees and their families came to stay at the hotel and have been working in turns to keep it running and to keep everyone as safe as possible. 

While at first, Russia was apparently attacking militarily strategic locations, now, everything’s under attack, said Anico-Taveras. 

Citizens Anico-Taveras knows are signing up to fight, particularly people who don’t yet have kids or who have grown kids. “Not professional, military people, but just [civilians who] understand that with a gun, they have more chances to survive.”

As for what people on the Sunshine Coast can do to help, Anico-Taveras stresses the need to be properly informed as Russian propaganda is far reaching. She and her family mostly rely on information from people they know, on the ground. “We always confirm whatever we read with what we hear from them.”

She also says that Ukraine will need medical supplies, such as bandages, and money. Anico-Taveras tells of families who left everything behind as they fled. “Sometimes, five minutes matters and it makes a difference between being alive and being dead.”