Their home countries may be locked in a tense conflict, but Oksana Ivashyna and Daria Zavarzina aren’t letting it get in the way of their burgeoning friendship.
Zavarzina, from Russia, and Ivashyna, from Ukraine, are part of the Kelowna Community Resource’s Settlement Mentorship Program.
The program aims to help recent immigrants settle into their new home in the Central Okanagan.
Conversations between the two come easily, they shared smiles and laughs during KCR’s Dec. 19 Christmas potluck dinner, which brought together immigrants and their mentors to celebrate Christmas traditions and socialize.
Zavarzina, who is a mentor and volunteer at KCR, translated for Ivashyna as they spoke to the Capital News.
Since 2014, there has been conflict between Russia and Ukraine because of Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, according to various media reports.
Separatists located in the east part of Ukraine have also been supported by Russia, with clandestine dispatches of troops and weapons. The fighting killed roughly 10,000 people since 2014, but has since eased since a 2015 truce.
In November, the Russian coast guard opened fired on Ukrainian ships and captured three vessels.
“Since I was studying a lot and my background is in history, I know about the conflict but I always try to distance myself (from Russia’s political environment) because I don’t agree with everything going on there. From my side, I fully accept her opinion and I totally disagree with Russian and Ukraine officials and what they say about the conflict… it’s difficult to talk about but since our nations are so close together, we speak basically the same language,” Zavarzina said, adding that she and Ivashyna are able to speak Russian to one another.
“Our countries have a long history and we have so much in common, it’s really difficult to not be friends, therefore we can’t understand (this conflict).”
She distances herself from the news and conflict, and said she tries to be open with those from other countries even if there is tension between her homeland and theirs.
“Sometimes I’ve had situations where some Ukrainians didn’t want to speak with me,” she said.
Ivashyna agrees, and tries to be open.
Settling in Canada after travelling abroad around Europe and the USA, Zavarzina is currently a cultural liaison at Okanagan College. At the college, she studied political science and immigration, which led her to volunteer at KCR.
She’s been in Kelowna four years and said her biggest challenge adjusting to Canadian culture is the more relaxed relationship that employees and employers share.
“In Russia, you have to be really careful what you say…. here it’s a different relationship. You (address) your boss (by their) first name,” she said.
Ivashyna, along with her husband and three-year-old son, will be celebrating their first year in Kelowna.
She moved to the Central Okanagan when it was recommended by friends and is currently a full-time mother.
While she said learning English is just a milestone that she will adjust to, she’s happy to see the amount of child-friendly events available.
In the Ukraine, events are more focused on dancing and are adult oriented, she said.
For her, the potluck is a good chance to network and learn how Canadians socialize.
It’s really important to bring and show Oksana how it works here, how networking works in Canada,” Zavarzina said.
Marianna Chen, immigrant services settlement worker for KCR, said about 30 people will show up for the potluck.
“We understand how difficult it is for immigrants (to integrate in the community) so we have mentoring programs,” she said.
One mentoring program is focused on settlement for immigrants and the other is focused on job placement.
The program lasts for about six months, but usually friendships are also formed out of it, Chen said. Potlucks and picnics are held a few times throughout the year.
The KCR programs are in need of mentors. To learn more about how to be eligible contact Chen at firstname.lastname@example.org.