Never Give Up

Svitlana Goncharenko


What does it mean to have “lucky shoes”? Can a pair of comfortable ECCOs help Svitlana Goncharenko receive her Canadian visa and make а remarkable journey from Ukraine to her family reunion in Calgary?


It was always difficult to buy quality shoes in Ukraine. Our shops mainly sold shoes made in Ukraine, which were heavy and tough. That is why I was so excited when ECCO opened several shoe stores in my city, Kharkiv. I bought a pair.  They were expensive but contemporary and the most comfortable pair of shoes I have ever owned. They quickly became my “lucky shoes.” I have worn them to job interviews, English exams, and when I applied for a visa at the Canadian Embassy in Ukraine. I strongly believe they brought me positive results.

My parents and younger brother immigrated to Canada 17 years ago. Even though we were separated for many years, we kept in touch almost every day through the Internet.  My only son went to Canada on a student visa in 2013. He was admitted to the University of Calgary at 17 due to his excellent English skills and academic results. The moment I saw his plane disappear into the sky, I decided that I should follow. I applied for a Canadian work visa.

The Canadian Embassy sent me a request for a medical examination in Kiev. That time in Kiev is now known as Euromaidan, a wave of demonstrations and clashes between police and protesters. When I arrived, I couldn’t believe my eyes. All the beauty of Kiev downtown was destroyed. I could only see barricades, bonfires, and armed people without smiles on their faces. My ECCO shoes became covered with a layer of ash from the burning tires that protesters used. I refused to walk through Independence Square, where more than 100 people were killed.

I passed my medical exam and went back to Kharkiv. Then, in February 2014, as the violence escalated and the Ukrainian President fled the country, the Canadian Embassy closed. All my original documents, including my passport, were inside. A long waiting period began. My mood swung back and forth between optimism and pessimism.  In March 2014, the war came to Ukraine. There was heavy bombing 300 kilometres from Kharkiv. Several eastern Ukrainian towns and cities were demolished. My parents and my son were extremely worried about me. 

Finally, several months later, the Embassy sent me my passport with a Canadian visa for a two-year period inside! The next day I bought a round-trip airplane ticket. 

I had to leave my huge collection of several hundred amazing books. I gave them as a present to several local libraries in need. I realized that if I left them in my home for such a long period of time, like two years, the war might destroy them.

When I flew to Canada, I wore my lucky ECCO shoes, of course. Just imagine: my plane successfully landed at the Calgary airport. I knew that my son and my parents were waiting for me and I would see them in a short period of time. However, the first words I heard from the Canadian customs officer were, “Your visa is not valid.” I couldn’t believe it. I decided that I didn’t understand English anymore. My favourite shoes were rooted to the Canadian ground. Yet, I had no permission to stay in Canada or to see my beloved ones.  

Despite feeling desperate, I ordered myself to keep calm and not cry. Then I said, “I believe there is some mistake.” Several customs officers gathered to chat. Finally, they told me that my documents were in order. 

Now I feel happy that I am reunited with my family. I still wear ECCO shoes. And when I can afford it, I will begin to stock my bookshelves in my Calgary home.

SVITLANA GONCHARENKO is from Ukraine and arrived in Canada in 2014. She has a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering and a Certificate in Administrative Management.

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