Mother and son billet Ray and Jean Rivers in Ukraine in 2016 - in 2022 the Rivers help them get to Canada and and find work

By Pepper Parr

May 20th, 2022



Ukrainians celebrate Vyshyvanka Day annually on the third Thursday in May. So I went to visit Gazette columnist Ray Rivers at his home. A Vyshyvanka is a traditional festive Ukrainian outfit shirt, for men and dress for women, which is hand-made and embroidered. It represents the history of the once great nation of Ukraine before it was invaded and its’ people oppressed over the years.

Rivers is of Ukrainian decent and has visited the land of his grandparents a couple times. The last time he and his wife, Jean, went there for a month to teach English, French and western culture to school children in Cherkasy, a city just south of the nation’s capital Kyiv. Ray was also on assignment to visit and cover Canada’s effort at training the Ukraine military near the western city of Lviv.

It was a memorable trip, his best vacation ever, even though it was a working holiday. While covering the military story for the Gazette Ray discovered the home of his third cousin living nearby in a small village, the birthplace of his paternal grandparents just outside of Lviv.

While teaching Ray and Jean were billeted by a couple of families with children in the schools. Once the Russian invasion began on February 24, Jean contacted the families to let them know that they would be welcome to come to Canada and the River’s would sponsor them. Since males between 18 and 60 must stay to support Ukraine’s war effort and defend the country, the mother and children of both families had accepted the offer but so far only one has made the journey from Ukraine.

Artem listens carefully and then translates for his Mother The mother and son didn’t know much about Canada – they knew about Tim Hortons and hockey. Their plans? To return to Ukraine when the war is over – with no idea at all when that will be. They have adapted exceptionally well.

Mila and Artem were driven by Mila’s husband from Cherkasy to Lviv and then across the Polish border to Krakow. A friend of the Rivers’ daughter worked at the Canadian embassy in Berlin and was delighted to help expedite the voyage of these new refugees from Krakow to Berlin and accommodate them for the almost three months it took to obtain a Canadian visa to come to Canada. They finally arrived in Toronto after a tiring journey last weekend.

Their first week here was mostly taken up with completing all the red tape required for their stay here….SIN numbers and health cards and medical exams. Jean had mentioned on a local Carlisle Facebook group that the refugees were arriving and one of the Pollard Window family offered to employ Mila if she met their requirements.

From the left: Jean Rivers, an accomplished artist, Artem, Ray Rivers and Mila

After an interview, Mila, who has an excellent resume with experience in furniture design, but is still struggling with her English, was offered a position with the company and starts the day after Victoria Day.

Mila and Artem will be staying only a few blocks away from the Pollard factory with Ray and Jean’s daughter and her family. Artem, who is 16 and in his second last year of school in Ukraine is completing his year virtually and planning to attend regular school here in Ontario next school year.

At this stage nobody knows how long the war will last but they are hoping to return once it is over and will return to their native country that much the better for the experience of living and working in Canada and with an appreciation for the kindness and consideration we have all extened them during this very troubling period in their lives.

Related news story:

When the Rivers first met their house guests

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5 comments to Mother and son billet Ray and Jean Rivers in Ukraine in 2016 – in 2022 the Rivers help them get to Canada and and find work

  • Rod and Shona St George

    Your New Zealand family are proud of you all for your efforts to help this family. This humanitarian gesture will enhance all of your lives.

  • Denise W.

    Great story, so nice to read some “good news”!

  • Larry

    Ray, well done. My sister in law in Bristol is also sponsoring a refugee, along with two other sisters staying with others on the same street. My thoughts and prayers are with them all.

  • jkent33

    A wonderful heartfelt story in these troubling times. My heart goes out to everyone impacted by this deliberate plan to destroy and disrupt families for a long time in the future. If I could ever help in any way please feel free to contact me. (Ray has my contact info on gmail.)

  • Philip Waggett

    Ray, much as we may disagree over politics, I’m so pleased that you have reached out to help Artem and Mila during the crisis in Ukraine.