Orthodox Christmas: The gift of helping others settle in Canada

Marko Lypovyk, 2, left, enjoys Ukrainian Christmas dinner at his parent’s home in Edmonton on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018. Ivan Lypovyk and Stepanenko-Lypovyk came to Edmonton from Ukraine in 2008 and 2013, respectively. They now help newcomers to Canada find employment and friendship. David Bloom / Postmedia

In Ukraine, Christmas is typically celebrated with family, says Bohdana Stepanenko-Lypovyk

Janet French, Edmonton Journal, Edmonton Sun.

With most relatives a 14-hour flight away, Stepanenko-Lypovyk and her husband, Ivan Lypovyk, invite newcomers each year to their south Edmonton home for Orthodox Christmas.

“We always try to invite them to our house, just to give them some light of friendship and light of opportunities, and the spirit of Christmas,” Stepanenko-Lypovyk said Sunday, which is Christmas Day according to the Julian calendar.

A decade ago, when Lypovyk was recruited to Edmonton from Ukraine to help fulfil a shortage of carpenters, he had plenty of support, he said. Many other workers on construction sites also spoke Ukrainian, and he met many helpful people.

A few years later, he and a buddy were flying to Egypt from Ukraine when they struck up a friendship with two women sitting behind them in the plane. One of the women was Stepanenko, who Lypovyk later married in 2012. His friend married Stepanenko’s friend.

When Stepanenko-Lypovyk moved to Edmonton in 2013, she found a job as a research assistant at the University of Alberta, where she also met plenty of people who helped her to adjust. Although she knew plenty of English terminology about the economy, for work, she said she still struggles with some everyday words, like the names of foods, or kitchen utensils.

The economic and political situation in Ukraine drives some to look for opportunities elsewhere, she said. It’s easier to start a business in Canada than Ukraine, where government is rife with corruption and bureaucratic hurdles, she said.

“Currently, you don’t feel safe in your own country because of the conflict with Russia,” she said.

The working mother of two now helps other members of the Ukrainian community by showing them how to write a resume in Canadian style, prepare them for job interviews, assist them with immigration paperwork, and direct them to legal advice.

People sometimes lose hope when they feel disoriented and stressed, or can’t find a job soon after arriving, she said.

She said she wants to be a good role model for her children, so they’ll learn the importance of helping others.

“I realized how important it is to have the support of somebody — even verbal support and emotional support — to help them find their way in Canada,” she said.

When they sat down to eat Kutya — a wheat-based porridge and staple Ukrainian Christmas dish — and drink Uzvar, a beverage made with dried fruits, they were joined by Ukrainian doctors who are navigating their way into new health-care careers, newly minted Canadian citizens, and a family of four trying to find a way to stay in Edmonton.

“Our house is open for any kind of support, if needed, for Ukrainian families.”

Ed. Note: Ivan Lypovyk is Vice President of the UNF Edmonton Branch and a Director of the New Pathway – Ukrainian News and St. John’s Institute Boards.