Hugs, toothy smiles from ear to ear and cheers greeted Inna Yermolenko and Boris Khodorkovsky as they arrived at the Symphony Senior Living retirement home in Ottawa on Monday morning.
Dozens of vibrant yellow and blue signs and balloons floated through the air, held by residents welcoming the Ukrainian couple as their newest family member.
“Welcome home,” they said, over and over.
“It was a big, big surprise. It was so touching,” Yermolenko said of the unexpected welcome party the day they moved in. “We did not expect that.”
“Just speechless,” Khodorkovsky said.
The couple and their three children fled the Russian invasion of their country. An estimated 3,200 Ukrainian refugees fleeing war have already landed in the nation’s capital, as a network of settlement agencies and volunteer groups help them adjust to their new communities.
And for the retirement home in the suburb of Orléans in Ottawa, the decision to welcome the family was easy.
Christine Turner, vice president of regional operations at Symphony Senior Living, said the retirement home has an apartment available. Residents, their families, and the wider community donated furniture and helped prepare the space.
“It was really fun,” she said. They offer the apartment free to the family for six months.
“We hope that maybe it’s comfortable enough for them to stay here with us afterwards.”
“It will be so useful for us, I can’t express it,” Yermolenko said. “We’ve lost everything and we’re starting from scratch here. So that’s a very, very, very big support for us.”
Khodorkovsky, who said he studied in Canada as a student more than two decades ago, said he couldn’t express his gratitude enough.
“I left when I was a student, so I spent my whole life in Ukraine… Now I’m starting over here, credit scores, everything,” he said.
The couple owned a children’s toy manufacturing business in Ukraine. They hope to eventually open another business in Canada, but acknowledge that it will take time.
“It takes a lot of effort, time and money too… So it will help us settle down from a certain point, just to go there on our own,” Khodorkovsky said.
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Resident Patricia Nelson said she felt grateful and blessed to be part of the welcome party.
“Because they’re people like me. We’re all people. And I’m glad we can help them,” she said.
Pierrette Woods said she feels proud to be part of the community, especially on a day like this.
“I’m sure everyone here will be ready to help them. We just have to be careful not to overwhelm them because they’ve been through horrible things in their country.”