Former Parkside Ranch camper helping extended family out of Ukraine

By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative
Former Parkside Ranch camper helping extended family out of Ukraine
(Photo : Courtesy)

Since Russia invaded Ukraine over a month ago, 19-year-old Iana Shapovalova, who was born in Kyiv, has been working tirelessly to help her extended family and friends out of the country.

Last week, Shapovalova welcomed two families into Canada, one on Friday and another on Sunday. She met them at the Trudeau International Airport in Montreal. Shapovalova lives in Saint-Hubert. And her time has been mostly consumed with helping her relatives overseas.

“We can’t just sit and not do anything because my family is the only family that’s outside of Ukraine and who would be able to help them out in this situation. If I wasn’t doing anything, I would probably be depressed right now because it’s hard,” she said in a phone interview.

Shapovalova and her family moved to Quebec in 2013. She told The Record that prior to moving away, she would visit Mariupol every summer. It pains her to see the city battered by Russian ballistic missiles on a daily basis. She shutters to think how much has been lost.

“It’s definitely not easy to see that basically my family members lost everything, homes, for some it’s cars, for some it’s businesses, jobs, everything and even some lost their dad, their husband, so it’s definitely devastating. I wish it wasn’t the reality, but it is,” she said.

Her uncle recently lost his life in the streets of Mariupol. He was travelling around the city trying to help residents evacuate from their basement bunkers. But one night he didn’t return home. Shapovalova said a search party went out the next day and found his body near his car.

When she speaks to her relatives on the ground in Ukraine, Shapovalova said they’re living through a nightmare. And many of them are struggling to believe that this isn’t just some distorted and cruel dream. Some are even hoping that they’ll be able to return soon.

“The most recent conversations are mostly about them relating that everything is gone. There’s no more home, there’s no more friends, there’s no more cities, there’s no more jobs, nothing. It’s really hard to accept for them,” Shapovalova said.

According to the 19-year-old, while there are still a few extended family members sticking it out in Ukraine, most of them have fled to bordering countries such as Hungary, Romania, and Poland, while others have made their way to Czechia, Croatia and even as far as France.

But the goal remains to bring as many of them as possible to Canada, she explained. The visa application process has proven to be difficult, though, as well as obtaining enough funds to purchase flights for every family. It takes a lot of time and patience, she continued.

“I would say if all of the information is provided by them, and there’s nothing missing, the visa application can take maybe four or five hours, but if it’s not and you have to call them and say there’s this missing, and this missing, it can take up to three days,” said Shapovalova.

She also started a GoFundMe page called ‘Help Rescue 8 Ukrainian Families’ — friends and relatives. They have managed to raise just over $16,000 since it was created on Feb. 26. But Shapovalova said that it has only really covered the expenses for the first two families.

A recent update from her mother, Olena, stated that they’re in the process of seeking approval for 37 visa applications. It can be a little stressful at times for Shapovalova. But they’ll have a bit more wiggle room now since Canada recently decided to waive the visa fees for Ukrainians.

“It takes a lot of patience. It takes a lot of time. It’s harder to work, to concentrate, because I’m still working almost 40 hours a week, and I have to say it has a physical impact on my health, too,” she said. She had to visit her doctor twice this past weekend for personal reasons.

Although her family has taken on this monumental task, Shapovalova has been moved to tears by the overwhelming support and generosity of the community. Even her former camp, the Parkside Ranch in Orford, has offered to help her achieve her goal in any way possible.

Parkside Ranch Communications Director Doug Bowker told The Record that they will be holding their annual sugaring off party this coming Sunday, April 3 where local artist Debbie Mosher-Roy has donated artwork to auction off and help raise funds for Shapovalova.

There are about 500 people that normally pass through the party, Bowker explained, adding that he hopes they’ll be able to generate enough interest in the auction. The proceeds will go directly to the GoFundMe, according to the camp’s director of communications.

In an email to The Record, Mosher-Roy explained that one of the paintings she created for the auction is a representation of the Ukrainian spirit, resilience, loyalty, and strength. The painting is of a sunflower, the national flower of Ukraine, on a beach with pedals strewn on the sand.

“My desire is that any money that can be raised from this painting is to go towards helping Iana’s family. When I heard that Parkside Ranch was involved in helping them I reached out to them and offered my painting,” she said, adding she will continue to pray for all Ukrainians.

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