Anastasiia Viekua is leading her first classes today in a part of the world she never would have believed she would be a few months earlier.
The 27-year-old is the much-welcomed and highly-anticipated newest instructor at Tsawwassen Wellness Centre Pilates. Viekua is among the millions of Ukrainians who have had their lives turned upside down since Russia invaded their country in late February.
In desperate need of instructors, it was back in the early days of the war when Tsawwassen Wellness Centre owner Linda Mallard connected with Viekua through the Travelling Pilates Instructors website to see if she would be interested in coming to Canada for the first time in her life.
“I’m not sure where they have gone, but I have not had one Canadian applicant in a year-and-half. I’ve had applicants from India, the Philippines and the United States but the process of getting them here is expensive with no guarantee,” said Mallard. “Back when the war started and people were fleeing Ukraine, I thought if I could find a Pilates instructor who needs to leave and get work, it could help a person or family and I get a teacher. I’m just so very grateful she is here as a very qualified teacher who brings a whole wonderful other experience.”
Viekua was granted a visa under the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel but her arrival was delayed by weeks as she and Mallard figured out how she would board various flights from Poland to Vancouver without having the visa in her hands yet. She at last arrived on Friday, leaving behind her husband who remains in Ukraine.
The couple initially fled their home in Kyiv for her parents’ place in Lviv when the invasion started. At the time, it was considered a safer location.
“When the first missile attack happened in Lviv, I started thinking ‘what are my options?” said Viekua who speaks fluent English. “That’s when I saw the post from Linda and we started the process of getting me to Canada.
“It took me almost a month and a half to get all documents. All that time I was exhausting myself with thoughts ‘am I doing the right thing?’ With war, there are so many life making decisions every day, so I stuck myself to the idea - I’m going to get a new experience of working in Canada for a while. That’s it.
“My husband supported me in any way he could. We both know it’s a challenging way that awaits us. Keeping a close relationship while being away, in a 10-hour time difference, and not knowing when we will see each other again.”
Mallard’s staff and clients have embraced Viekua’s arrival in a big way.
“We told our clients what was happening and they responded right away,” added Mallard. “One client (longtime Tsawwassen resident Kathleen Siba) stepped up and said she can live with her, so we immediately got a homestay. Others just donated money and we also had T-shirts made up with the Ukraine flag and colours. Altogether, we have raised just over $9,000 to help with clothing, purchasing a phone and other things.
“We were sad here (with what’s happening in Ukraine) and not knowing what to do, so this gave people a purpose. They'll come in, have Anastasiia teaching them and it's like they know they helped her.”