Grand Mananers rolled out the red carpet and rang the church bell on the hill in North Head to welcome two families from Ukraine to their island “safe harbour.”
The Marinins — Lena, Sacha and three-year-old Kostya — from Mariupol, and the Shutiaks — Sergei, Ludmila and two-year-old Vlodimir — from a medium-sized town outside Kyiv, arrived in the village last week.
Islanders had been working for a few months to co-ordinate their arrival, said Judy Stone, one of the people leading the effort.
A crowd greeted the Marines at the island airport. Some have brought meals to them. Many have been practicing how to say “hello” in Ukrainian.
“We thought with empty rooms in the house there wasn’t any reason why we shouldn’t help,” said Murray Green, who, along with his wife, Krista, is hosting the Shutiak family.
The Shutiaks got in touch, said Green, after his wife filled out some forms online.
They took a plane to Halifax and a bus to Saint John, where Green picked them up at the station.
It was a tearful greeting, he said.
“I suppose they were wondering if anyone was going to show up.”
After a rush to catch the last ferry, they arrived on Grand Manan at about 11:30 at night.
When he took them on a tour around the island in daylight they had tears in their eyes, said Green.
“They said they had come to paradise. I was really, really, really happy.”
Green is a semi-retired truck driver, who has also worked as a fish hatchery technician and a lobster fisherman, and has six grown children.
He met his wife in Saint John and persuaded her to move to the island about six years ago.
So far things are going well with their new roommates, he said.
“We cooked them a huge meal the next day after they arrived here because we figured they’d be starved half to death. He got up and started washing dishes before the meal was even finished.
“They made homemade perogies the next night. They were delicious.”
“We’re having fun.”
“I think it’s a good experience,” he said and he encouraged other Maritimers to do it.
The Shutiaks are anxious to find work, said Green. He doesn’t think they’ll have trouble on that front.
Sergei, 28, has experience in construction and understands quite a lot of English, said Green.
Housing might be more of a challenge, he said.
“I’m going to let them stay for as long as they need,” he said.
Once they’re ready, they’ll look for a place to rent.
The Shutiaks arrived with one suitcase and one backpack, said Stone.
“Now I think they’re drowning in diapers,” she said.
“We’re going to have to set up a special depot in our shed for the donations that are just pouring in. It’s wonderful.”
Job prospects available
Funds have been raised that Islanders would like to put in their bank accounts, said Stone — the Anglican parish put up $20,000 to help the newcomers get settled — but the Ukrainians seem reluctant to accept money.
Sacha Marinin, a marine engineer, may have already found a job, working for Coastal Transport — the company that operates the two ferries between the island and Blacks Harbour.
Stone wasn’t sure of his job status, but said Sacha has been on one or both of the Grand Manan ferries nearly every day since last Monday.
“It looks quite promising,” she said.
It’s a full-time job to keep the ferries in working order, noted Green.
Lena is a nurse, who worked with another Grand Manan newcomer from Ukraine, Tetiana Psaras, back in Mariupol.
She has “extensive experience in intensive care units,” said Psaras, who is married to a Grand Mananer and has lived on the island for several years.
She hopes to eventually be able to practice in New Brunswick, Psaras said.
For now, Lena is still in isolation because she only had one vaccine shot, meaning she can’t leave the property where she’s staying until Sunday, said Stone, but it’s a property with 85 acres to roam around on.
The Marinins had two homes to choose from when they came to the island, said Stone.
A couple from Vancouver offered their house and some year-round residents offered a walk-out apartment in the basement of their house, with two bedrooms, a living room and a shared kitchen.
At first, it was just going to be Lena and her little boy coming.
“She chose to be in a house with people,” said Stone, “which we thought was a wise decision.”
“It was a bonus that Sacha was able to eat.”
He’d been at sea since January and, for a time, didn’t know what had happened to his wife and child because of power and communication outages.
Lena and Kostya spent most of the attack sheltered in the Mariupol Orchestra, said Psaras.
Hoping they’ll stay
It was on the couple’s fifth anniversary that they reunited in Warsaw, said Stone.
After the terrible time they’ve experienced, Grand Manan has plenty of peace and quiet, noted Green, but Stone expects there will be a bit of culture shock for the newcomers.
So far, she said, “they are doing well.”
She hopes they can settle on the island and it works for them, but said there are no expectations or obligations.
“It’s wherever they want to start their lives and live their lives.”
Ukrainians fleeing the war have been granted visas to live and work in Canada for three years. Afterwards they can apply for permanent residence.
More Ukrainians may be headed for Grand Manan in the near future, said Stone. A mother and son are expected to come and work at one of the island’s convenience stores, she said.
Stone wouldn’t be surprised if they end up staying. She herself came to the island from Toronto 24 years ago for a day of camping and just kept coming back.