A Ukrainian citizen who is living in Abbotsford and still has many family members in the Russian-invaded country says the best thing people can do right now is to remain calm.
Zlata Zolotarova said she is trying to stay strong for her family in Ukraine, including her parents, brother, grandmother and several others.
“I tell Canadians, especially ones that have family there or are Ukrainian Canadians or are Ukrainian students … the best thing they could ever do right now is to just be a calm, steady voice,” she said.
“I get very frustrated with some people who would panic more than I panic. I’m like, ‘Hey, I need to be strong for my family.’ ”
Zolotarova grew up in Zaporizhia in southeastern Ukraine on the banks of the Dnieper River and bordering the Donbas region to the east.
She came to Abbotsford in 2015 to study at Columbia Bible College and has since become a permanent Canadian resident. She now works for a local charity, Multi-nation Missions Foundation.
When word spread a few weeks ago about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, Zolotarova said her family was concerned about their city being one of the first to come under attack.
“My parents when they heard (there was movement going on at the border), they were trying to prepare just in case something happened. So they were able to buy some extra food and clothes, just in case. But when the invasion happened, no one expected it to happen everywhere in Ukraine,” she said.
Her parents, Andriy and Luydmila, both work for non-profit agencies that take care of seniors in Zaporizhia and the surrounding areas. But Zolotarova said they made the difficult decision to leave their home and travel west into safer areas of Ukraine.
The couple are now working with displaced people and coordinating humanitarian aid, while keeping in touch with people in Zaporizhia to direct and encourage them. Zolotarova’s grandmother, Luyvob, has gone with them.
“She’s actually a child of the war. She was born during the Second World War. She lived in the Donetsk area, an occupied area by Russia in 2014, so she had to move from that area to our home and now she has to move from their home to her home in the western Ukraine.”
So far, Russian soldiers have not entered Zaporizhia, but Zolotarova said the surrounding villages are filled with Russian troops and people, including some of her family members, have been hiding in bomb shelters when the air-raid alerts sound.
She said one of her cousins is hiding in a church.
Zolotarova said she is proud to see how her fellow Ukrainians are fighting back against the Russians and the leadership that has been shown by President Volodymyr Zelensky.
But she is also saddened that so many Russian troops are young men who did not know what they were involved in.
“My friend’s dad and her son encountered a Russian solider and they said that some of them are scared. They are 19-, 20-, 23-year-old men who thought they were going to a training. They did not know they were going to Ukraine,” she said.
Zolotarova stays in touch with her family every day and said, although the situation is stressful, they are mostly remaining calm and hopeful.
“Thankfully, they are safe and they are in a community with others. I think that’s what helped them the most – that they’re not alone,” she said.