A small playground in Toronto has become a safe haven for a group of Ukrainian children and their mothers.
There’s laughter and joy when kids play on the slide and throw a ball. The great outdoors seem to offer them a place of comfort since their arrival in Canada.
“I love nature”, says Ivan, “the forest, the lake and the river.” The 17-year-old is one of nine children receiving cancer treatment at the Hospital for Sick Children. Many Ukrainian children arrived at the end of March, thanks to a special evacuation programme, with their mothers and siblings.
CTV National News caught up with five of the families now that they feel settled in Canada.
“I’m grateful to be here,” Invaka said through a translator. She arrived with her three sons.
His son Ruslan struggled to get cancer treatment once Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began.
“It was a big scare,” she said. “They couldn’t anticipate what was going to happen.”
She said being in Canada brings her great joy and her boys can make new friends and learn a new language.
Dr Sarah Alexander, a pediatric oncologist treating one of the Ukrainian patients, says the group is doing well and all medical care is proceeding as planned. But it’s community support and family resiliency that have impacted doctors the most.
“I think the highlight is twofold. One is the profound example of resilience and the ability to navigate complicated things by children and families,” Dr. Alexander said. “And the community in the hospital and outside of the hospital has really stepped up to support and I think those two things have been amazing things to watch and be a part of.”
This community support is made possible by organizations like the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and Megan’s Hug, which focuses on raising awareness and funds for pediatric brain tumor research.
Meagan’s Hug has raised over $90,000 to help support families and has partnered with other groups to help provide housing, food and clothing.
“It warms my heart to see families settle down, to see that they have made special friends and their mothers have come together on a very lonely and difficult journey,” said Denise Bebenek, founder of Meagan’s hug.
Bebenek has spent time with the families since their arrival, through his own tragic experience of losing his daughter, Bebenek knows firsthand the importance of community support.
“I think the best medicine for these families is love and support and knowing they’re not alone.”
The children are certainly feeling this support, with many speaking positively about their time here so far.
Many are enrolled in school and enjoy going to class.
“I love the subjects,” said Maria, whose brother is undergoing cancer treatment. “I have friends at school.”
It is these new relationships that offer care, compassion and hope to these families. Ivan’s face lit up with excitement when he shared that his math teacher spoke Ukrainian.
When asked about the staff at Sick Kids Hospital, he said “they work very hard and are friendly”.
Most families say they intend to return to Ukraine, but for now they are focused on the health of their children and maintaining some sense of normalcy while in Canada.
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