New Home and New Shoes
Adjusting to life in a new country is a lot like breaking in a new pair of shoes. Yuliia Kovalenko narrates the ups and downs of breaking in her new life in Canada after fleeing the war in Ukraine.
On February 24, 2022, I was jolted out of bed by the sound of explosions and a single thought: “It’s started!”
We had been warned that a war was coming, but none of us believed it would happen. I was in Kyiv at my university hostel when the Russia-Ukraine war began.
The security guard ran through all nine floors, ordering us to evacuate to the basement. We spent four days down there. There was no electricity. We slept on the floor and ate whatever food we could find. It wasn’t safe to go outside. The hostel was located beside a military base, so it wasn’t safe for us to stay inside either.
One of the girls who has relatives in Poland suggested we go there for safety. We were given fifteen minutes to pack our bags. I raced to my room and grabbed whatever I could see: warm clothes, my passport, some pills, and a box with a new pair of sneakers I had bought the day before the war started. I spent the next three months in Poland.
When I landed in Canada on May 31, 2022, I allowed myself to open the box and put on my new sneakers for the first time. Since February 24, 2022, I had been wearing only my heavy and uncomfortable winter boots. I had them on the night we were evacuated to the hostel’s basement. I wore them the entire time I was in Poland. I finally took the boots off when I arrived in Canada.
Putting on brand-new shoes mirrors the excitement of arriving in a new country. When I finally took off the old winter boots and put on my new white sneakers, I thought, “I’m here. I did it. I have no barriers. Life is beautiful.” I felt this way about being in Canada as well. I quickly found a job. I learned new skills. I visited interesting places that were brand new to me.
I was excited about my start. But remember, these are new shoes. They always feel pleasant at first, but things change as you walk around in them.
The second day in my new sneakers were like my second month in Canada. The new shoes chafed my feet and gave me callouses, but I still loved them. The challenges and uncomfortable situations were more noticeable as the excitement of being in Canada began to fade. The differences between Ukrainians and Canadians became apparent, and I felt lonely and out of place.
I read the news about what’s happening in my country, and I feel guilty that I am safe while my family and friends are still in Ukraine.
My third day in my new shoes matched my third month. My legs hurt when I wore the shoes, and I didn’t love the shoes as much as I did before. They rubbed my heels so much that they bled. It was hard to deal with the emotions that came from this new experience, and my homesickness grew. To survive on my own, I had to have two jobs. I was not sleeping well. I missed my parents and my life in Ukraine.
On my fourth day of wearing the new shoes, I bought a heel patch. It stopped the bleeding, and the cushioning eased the pain. I concentrated on the positive aspects of being in Canada. I began keeping a journal of all the things I was grateful for, such as meeting new people and talking with my parents on the phone.
On the fifth day, the wounds from my new shoes began to heal. My emotions became more tolerable. I began noticing how many opportunities have come into my life since my arrival in Canada and how many supportive people I’ve met along the way.
By the sixth day, my feet were starting to feel at home in my shoes. They now fit my feet because they stretched and creased in the right areas. I have fallen in love with my new shoes again. I am now feeling that I belong in the country where I am.
Yuliia was born in Pavlohrad, in Central-East Ukraine. She began her undergraduate degree in journalism in Kyiv at seventeen, but she was forced to flee without her family when Russia invaded her homeland. She arrived in Winnipeg in 2022. She is now completing her university studies online. Yuliia is motivated to share her story about how she found the courage to embrace her new life in Canada while she awaits a reunion with her parents and other loved ones.