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Montrealers open their homes to Ukrainian families fleeing war-torn country

Tatiana and Daniel Romano have been sleeping in their basement, as they renovate their home to house Ukrainian families fleeing the war.

In the past month, they’ve torn down walls to create spare bedrooms and bathrooms to make their guests comfortable. For them, revamping their home in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que., a suburb in Montreal’s West Island, is worth the trouble.

“We want to be able to offer a space to live with dignity,” Tatiana Romano said. “Not just a mattress on the floor.”

The Romanos are already hosting two Ukrainian families and are expecting a third to join them in June.

“I scored,” Tatiana said. “I feel I’m the lucky one who gets to welcome them. I feel like I’m a mother of 10.”

The Romanos are some of the Montrealers opening their homes to Ukrainians while they find their footing in Canada.

This weekend, the city will welcome around 400 Ukrainians, says the municipal councillor in charge of the file, Alia Hassan-Cournol. They will be arriving by charter plane on May 29.

“There’s been a huge wave of solidarity coming from Montrealers that wanted to welcome Ukrainian migrants in their homes,” Hassan-Cournol said.

“A lot of [Ukrainians] already have family in Montreal or around Montreal so they’re going to be reunited.”

Finding shelter

Hassan-Cournol says Ukrainians need to know their rights, especially housing rights, and ensure they’re respected.

The city of Montreal, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, the Quebec Immigration Ministry and the Union des Municipalités du Québec are partnering to support Ukrainian migrants settling in the city.

The city agency that helps newcomers integrate will help direct the Ukrainian arrivals to dwellings that suit them by asking prospective hosts to provide detailed information about their home.

“We need to make sure that people who are coming here by themselves or with their kids in a very traumatic [state] arrive here safe,” Hassan-Cournol said.

“The form will make sure that the housing proposed by Montrealers is sanitary, safe and meets the needs of the families. We check criminal records.”

montrealers open their homes to ukrainian families fleeing war torn country
Evgeniia Pimenova, right, and her son, Yaroslav Vakhitov, are living with the Romanos as they adjust to life in Canada. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC)

Evgeniia Pimenova from Odesa, Ukraine, who is staying with the Romanos, says she’s grateful for their generosity and for finding safety in Canada.

When the war broke out, her son, Yaroslav Vakhitov, 15, was in a Ukrainian hospital for surgery on his legs. She says she had to ask someone to help carry him to shelter when she heard bombs.

“I still don’t believe that I’m somewhere in a foreign country,” she said. “We couldn’t believe how lucky we were. Everybody is helping us out.”

On June 2, Vakhitov will get an ultrasound to see if he’s recovered enough to stand again.

“We’re now going to entrust our son to Canadian doctors,” she said.

As Tatiana Romano and her husband prepare to take in another family this summer, she says she’s thankful the families that share her home have given her an opportunity to do good.

“It makes a difference,” she said. “You give somebody a chance to start anew, to succeed and you see them grow.”

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