Intersections is a new features sub-section exploring multiculturalism and diaspora in Toronto. Students consider how their cultural backgrounds have influenced their experiences, perspectives, and stories.
Ukraine reached the height of its conflict with Russia when I was 16 years old. With most of my family still there, in the middle of the fighting, I felt a mix of fear for their lives and gratitude for my own safety here in Canada.
During this time, I approached my father, feeling sentimental, and thanked him for moving my family to Canada 10 years ago. He looked at me, almost in tears, and informed me that my mother had been reluctant to immigrate here, and he had convinced her to do so by stating that one day her kids would thank her.
That conversation happened four years ago, and since then, I have learned more and more about the incredible sacrifices my parents made for my future. At 27 years of age, these two first-time parents chose to leave behind their families, their lifelong friends, and well-established careers for the chance of a better life in Canada. This one act is a testament to their incredible strength and bravery — a sacrifice greater than I have ever, or likely will ever, have to make in my life.
When we first moved here, my parents worked 40-hour shifts in a bakery to support my family of four. They worked alongside other immigrants who had moved here from various other countries, people guided by the promise of a better life, but who had failed to find one. My mother once described the despair that permeated the faces of every worker there, which made her and my father afraid that they would get nowhere in life. Instead of resigning themselves to a life of bitter regret and resentment toward a failed dream, my parents chose to persevere.
Once again, they sacrificed a steady, albeit difficult, job to enrol in a school that taught immigrants English. This got them unpaid internships at businesses that would potentially hire them in the future. Their incredible work ethic and the hope of stability for our future were able to gain them steady but low-paying jobs in the business world.
My father continued to go to school, eventually obtaining his Certified General Accountant degree, a program that many people who enrol in drop out of or fail to pass. Now, both of my parents are incredibly high up in their jobs, and they have never failed to provide my two sisters or me with anything we could possibly want.
Despite spending most of my life in Canada, my parents have ensured that my siblings and I are incredibly committed to and involved with Ukrainian traditions and cultures. We speak fluent Ukrainian, have studied Ukrainian dancing for seven years, Ukrainian literature for eight years and we volunteer at a Ukrainian camp to this day. Our family continues to celebrate Ukrainian Easter, Ukrainian New Year’s, and, my personal favourite, Ukrainian Christmas. Every year, on January 6, my family puts on traditional Ukrainian shirts, which are hand-stitched with intricate patterns, and sit down together for a meal made up of 12 specific dishes, such as pierogies, borscht, and kutya, a dish made up of poppy seed and honey, essential to the Christmas dinner table for centuries.
These traditions are incredibly important to me because they provide a link to my family’s past, including the places they have left behind, the friends that they have not seen for years, and the family that I have not had the opportunity to get to know. Even though I only spent a quarter of my life in Ukraine, these traditions have ingrained ‘Ukrainian’ as the central part of my identity, and I still feel as if Ukraine is my home.
The ordeals my parents have endured for my family to come to Canada and achieve their dream of a better life for us have motivated my studies more than anything else. Their ability to succeed in a country where the language, culture, and people are all foreign motivates me to make the most of the opportunity they have given me and to one day repay them in any way that I can.
My work ethic in high school — and now in university — is fuelled by the need to prove myself worthy of their sacrifices. Being accepted into the University of Toronto was a big step toward making the most of what I have been given. Luckily, I find that U of T has many avenues for celebrating my heritage, such as a Ukrainian club. I am fortunate to be accepted among other students, some of who have incredible stories of immigration that are very similar to my own.