She came to Hamilton after escaping war in Ukraine — now she's helping others do the same

CBC News

Bobby Hristova · CBC News · Posted: Feb 02, 2023

A month after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Hanna Trofimova said she had a deadly dilemma on her hands.

"My idea was to stay there because I felt sorry for my husband — he's still there — but his idea was to go as far as possible ... because we have two kids," the 46-year-old Ukrainian told CBC Hamilton.

"I was like, 'OK, probably one more day, two more days, three more days,' but after that, we made a quick decision that we had to go."

Trofimova and her two children left on March 4. Her husband, an information technology specialist, stayed behind in the central city of Dnipro to help ensure locals still had internet access.

Trofimova said she and the children, now 16 and 9, fled to Lviv before ending up in Poland and arriving in Canada 23 days later.

Now, she's helping Ukrainian families, who faced the same gruelling choices, settle in the Hamilton area.

"It was just like a miracle," Trofimova said with a bubbly smile while sitting in an office at the YMCA Immigrant Services building on Main Street West.

Trofimova has helped 170 Ukrainians

Trofimova said when she arrived in Toronto, she stayed with her sister and got a job as a translator before landing a position at YMCA of Hamilton Burlington Brantford as a newcomer information specialist.

In Ukraine, Trofimova was an English teacher who taught children and adults.

At the YMCA, she works specifically with Ukrainian families entering the country via Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET), a federal program to expedite the migration process for Ukrainians fleeing war.

The local YMCA's Ukrainian settlement support services include:

  • English-language assessments and conversation circles.
  • Youth and school settlement supports.
  • Employment services.
  • Referrals to housing, health and other services.
  • Professional and youth mentorship matches.

Lily Lumsden, senior regional manager at YMCA employment and immigrant services, said families get referred to the YMCA's services though the Canadian Red Cross or the Canadian Ukrainian Immigration Aid Society.

She added Trofimova has helped 170 Ukrainians, while the local YMCA as a whole has helped over 600 Ukrainians since March.

"Hanna being new here as well, what's really helped is she has that perspective," Lumsden said.

Trofimova said she is able to draw on her own experiences to help guide newcomers.

"When I see their eyes, first, it's kind of panicking," she said.

"As long as we communicate with them, they always leave with a smile ... this thank you and this smile is a complete reward and is the greatest pleasure."

Ukrainian supports at YMCA expanding

Lumsden said the YMCA supports have expanded thanks to funding from Ontario and the federal government's desire to increase immigration levels.

Lumsden said the YMCA hired seven people specifically to help with Ukrainians immigrating through CUAET, as well as three school settlement workers. Some 205 children have benefited from the education services, she said.

The most significant addition, Lumsden said, are two full-time housing workers to help Ukrainian families find permanent housing in Hamilton in surrounding areas.

This way, workers will be with the families every step of the way instead of pointing them to online listings.

'I have to be optimistic'

While Trofimova is a world away from Ukraine, she's reminded of what's happening in her homeland daily.

She still hasn't reunited with her husband and some friends are also back in Ukraine.

The past year has undoubtedly been challenging for her and her family.

Despite that, Trofimova said, she doesn't let the circumstances bring her down.

"I have two kids ... If they see me crying ... they will cry with me," she said.

"I have to be optimistic. I know one day, everything will be fine."