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Prince Rupert couple flying to Ukraine to save family amid Russian invasion

A child survivor in Chornobyl, nuclear fears are real for Anatolii Levkovytskyi
Anatolii Levkovytskyi shows photos of his family members on March 4 who are on the front lines of the Ukrainian conflict. Levkovytskyi and his wife are headed to Ukraine to assist in anyway they can. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

A Prince Rupert nurse is flying to Ukraine today (March 7) to assist with war efforts and bring back her family members from the heart of the fighting, her husband, Anatolii Levkovytskyi, said.

While most people in Ukraine are taking shelter numerous times a day from the bombs and missiles destroying their homes, or are fleeing the country altogether to remain safe, Levkovytskyi and his wife Iryna Levkovytska are headed to the nation, under Russian attack, to do whatever they can to assist fellow countrymen. Anatolii will follow his wife in two weeks.

“We have a huge crisis. A world crisis [with] what has happened in Ukraine. I believe I can not stay behind and just stay home. I need to do something — at least inform [people] of what is happening in Ukraine,” he told The Northern View.

With their two children, the couple made Prince Rupert home five years ago. As Ukrainian immigrants, they moved from Alberta, where they landed ten years ago. Living first in Lethbridge and then moving to Drumheller, Anatolii was an arborist. The family became Canadian citizens at their first opportunity.

After graduating as a registered nurse, Iryna started caring for North Coast residents at Prince Rupert Regional Hospital, and Anatolii works as an independent renovations contractor. Their two children, Michael and Maria, attended Charles Hays Secondary School before graduating.

“Ukrainians need help. All of Europe is sending medical supplies, food and goods. Canada is far away. But we can still help … If you think this is going to go away, it’s not. All Canadians should help Ukrainians,” Anatolii said.

Both sides of the family are in Ukraine, with some in Russia. His and Iryna’s parents are senior citizens. Anatolii has a brother in Poland and another in Ukraine. Both are married with children. Iryna has a sister who is also in the war zone. All have spouses and children.

The couple wants to bring their family to Canada, but there are obstacles. One nephew is hearing impaired and does not have travel documentation. Only those with passports can get across the border. Many citizens do not have passports and are not prepared, he said. One of the grandmothers is refusing to leave her home.

“Nobody wants to go. The men don’t want to leave. They want to go and fight. They want to protect Ukraine.”

Anatolii and Iryna have been sending money back to help their family.

“We have used all of our money to help them, but you can’t buy life,” he said, adding they even re-mortgaged their home to purchase a second property, so the family has a place to live when they arrive in Canada.

Iryna’s job has allowed her to take vacation time for her mission. Hospital staff and friends have donated money to assist with funds, which Anatolii said made his heart overflow with gratitude.

He would like to see the Canadian and Ukrainian communities come together to donate. He and Irena have tried to set up a GoFundMe campaign. However, he said their attempts were not approved. He doesn’t know why.

Anatolii’s older brother is fighting on the front lines with the Ukraine Territorial Defence Forces (UTDF) in Khmelnytskyy, a city with a regular population of 300,000. The UTDF is an organization of civilians defending their cities and homes. They are fighting among destroyed buildings and cement rubble. They are fighting with sheer determination and will, he said.

“It’s not military. The Territory Defence is basically neighbours — they organize small groups of men. They don’t have proper equipment. They don’t have helmets. They don’t have bulletproof vests,” he explained. “Yes, they have guns, but they don’t have any training. They will fight against regular forces, and they will stay to fight.”

The couple has sent money to Anatolii’s younger brother in Poland to purchase bulletproof vests and helmets to get to the older brother on the front lines, so his safety chances improve.

“The bombing is everywhere,” he said, indicating on a map how the Russian forces have moved across the country and attacked more than half of it. “Right now, it’s under martial law.”

“If you can imagine, every day, 10, 20 times a day my family are running to the bomb shelters, carrying the kids and their packs,” he said, describing many of the bomb shelters as old, leftover, underground tunnels and buildings built before the fall of the Soviet Union.

“The Russians have bombed the infrastructure. They have bombed the electrical and the water pumps,” he described.

Food is short but the people are standing together to help one another, he said, with bakeries giving away bread while volunteers deliver food.

The dire situation makes Anatolii not just ‘want to’ but also ‘need to’ help his family. When they immigrated to Canada, he said, they never thought anything like this would happen.

He believes that being a Canadian citizen travelling on a Canadian passport, he can cross the border. Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 have been prohibited from leaving the country.

“I want to help because I can cross the border. I can deliver goods over there. Right now Ukraine needs everything like medication and food.”

Levkovytskyi explained while the goods are not available in Ukraine, they can be purchased in Poland and surrounding countries, then delivered back to where they are needed. Taking goods over with them is not practical, so he is taking as much money as he can.

Is he prepared for the devastation he might see in his homeland and the ravages missile strikes have left behind?

He said he could not imagine what he might see or how it would affect him. The fear is real and he is frightened, but he cannot justify staying in Prince Rupert, doing nothing while his family is in the midst of conflict, he said.

Speaking with a voice of experience, he said his concerns are far greater than for just his own family — He has fears for the world.

“Right now, I know if Russians bomb the nuclear station, I know what will happen…” he said, with tears in his eyes. “North America will have millions and millions of refugees from Europe, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Russia. All of Europe will be in disaster.”

Born in a small town on the China-Siberian border, he is half Russian and half Ukrainian through his parents. In 1984, when he was seven years old, his parents moved their family to a newly developed community in Ukraine.

“It was a nice new town in Pripyat for young families to move to,” Anatolii said. They lived there peacefully with hope for two years.

The name of the town on the Pripyat River they had moved to was Chornobyl, where, in 1986, life changed.

Anatolii saw firsthand the effects of the nuclear disaster. Some of his friends got sick. Some had leukemia. His friend in the apartment next door died. He had to endure a battery of medical examinations, tests, and hospital visits every six months growing up.

While everyone was evacuated, they were told they could return in three days - but this didn’t happen. They were not allowed to return. As a 9-year old, Levkovytskyi said he understood what was occurring as there were lots of discussions and explanations of living around a nuclear plant.

“I knew all the time. We are different. The kids from Chornobyl, all of us knew we had the potential to die,” he said.

The present-day situation in Ukraine is terrifying, he said with the threats of nuclear action. Willing to help anyone who needs it, the quiet-spoken man, said the thought of going back to Ukraine does scare him.

“Everybody is scared to die, but we have a responsibility for friends, parents, family. You can’t just do nothing. You can do something.”

Brotherhood has been created between citizens, one he said he could not ignore.

While phones and communications lines are down, he and his wife are able to communicate with family twice a day as the internet is still operating.

Speaking to his brother-in-law about the horrors of the conflict escalation, he said his family member cried in desperation begging for his children to be looked after and brought to safety in Canada.

The night before Anatolli spoke to The Northern View, he received word his sister-in-law and three children made it across the border into Poland, where Irena will fly today (March 7) to meet them and arrange for their passage to Prince Rupert.

Irena doesn’t know how long she will be, and return tickets have not yet been booked. With Anatolii working for himself, income will be minimal while they are away.

Anatolii said even if the travel papers are issued quickly, and Iryna returns, he will stay behind to assist and support.

Asked if he would drive refugees across the border, he said, “Yes.” Asked if he will clear up bomb sites and rubble, he said, “Yes.” Asked if he will go as far as the front lines to pick up a gun, the man who has made Prince Rupert his home, took a deep breath, nodded his head and softly said, “Yes.”

He doesn’t think his and his wife’s actions are ‘brave’, but necessary. His mind keeps turning over and over with different thoughts, he said.

“We have to go. It’s not about bravery. It’s very scary. But we understand that if we don’t act now, there will be, like, the end of the world. It’s not about us. If you think we live in a faraway [place] at the end of the geography, it’s not. It’s not. Right now, it is a humanitarian crisis … We live in 2022. We’ve already had two world wars. This shouldn’t happen now.”

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K-J Millar | Journalist
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