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War in Ukraine reunites childhood friends in Thornton, Ont.


Denys Derzhavets and Andrey Sychev met many years ago as boys in school. Neither could have known that their childhood connection would turn into a lifeline many years later.

When the Russians invaded Ukraine, Sychev texted his longtime friend asking for help.

"I text him back that was has started, and Kyiv is under bombardment," Derzhavets recalled.

Derzhavets has been living in Canada for more than two decades, and without hesitation, the Thornton man said he offered his home to his friend.

"A program opened [called] Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel," Derzhavets said. "They were able to apply and move quickly to Canada."

The Federal government introduced the Canada-Ukraine emergency travel program to support the people of Ukraine, offering Ukrainians and their family members free, extended temporary status.

The program allows them to work, study and stay in Canada for up to three years.

Sychev, his wife, their three children and their dog packed what they could into a few suitcases and left their homeland, a move Sychev said is difficult to describe.

"Because when [the] war started, all my life was changed. In fact, you feel yourself like in some bad dream."

Needing some extra mattresses, Derzhavets posted on a community page and said his phone was immediately ringing off the hook.

"Everybody is messaging, 'What can we do? What can we bring?' And people started bringing lots of different things."

Sychev said the generosity of the community was overwhelming.

"Canada peoples, who never knew about us or anything, they just give us money, gift cards, and other [things]. It's really, very good."

While life may look much different for the Sychev family, they are starting to adjust.

The children enjoy taking the school bus, and Sychev's wife started working at a local Ukrainian bakery.

"I want again, to say my very, very grateful to all Canadian people and [the] Canadian government," he said.

Sychev said above all he can't thank his childhood friend enough for taking him and his family in during a difficult time.

"We say to them, you can stay as long as required," Derzhavets said.

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