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Condo neighbours get married, offer extra unit to Ukrainians

Diane MacPherson and Eugene Smith moved up their wedding to be able to offer their spare condo to mother and daughter who came to Canada from Ukraine.
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Ninel Balachiy, front left, and her daughter, Olha Balachii, who have been in Victoria almost a month, at the home of Eugene Smith, back left, and Diane MacPherson. When Smith and MacPherson married recently, they decided to use their spare condo to host Ukrainians fleeing the war. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Diane MacPherson and Eugene Smith met because they live in adjacent Fairfield condominium buildings, and they recently decided to get married.

Both are in their 60s and it was the second marriage for each.

Like so many others, they have been affected by media coverage of the war in Ukraine, MacPherson said.

“All this started going on, looking at the TV and the bombs,” she said. “I thought: ‘How could we help?’ ”

Both had nice, comfortable places to live, and they also had extra space, MacPherson said.

But they weren’t married yet and their faiths were keeping them from living together — which would have left one of their condos empty. With that in mind, they moved up the timetable for the wedding on Cape Breton Island.

When they got back, they had an unused condo ready to go and signed up to take in Ukrainian guests, MacPherson said.

They committed to a three-month stint through Help Ukraine Vancouver Island to provide food and lodging, and were asked within a few days to take in a mother and her older daughter.

The pair, 53-year-old Ninel Balachiy and 31-year-old Olha Balachii, moved into Smith’s unit after getting picked up from a downtown bus.

“The back door opens and I see this woman holding two huge suitcases and almost falling [over], exhausted,” MacPherson said.

The women had been up for four days making their way to Canada, she said.

MacPherson said taking them to their new home was an emotional experience.

She said she and Smith showed them their new place and pointed out that the other condo is right around the corner, “so you have two homes.”

At one point, Balachiy’s lip started to quiver.

“I just grabbed her and we both started crying,” ­MacPherson said. “I said: ‘You’re here, you’re safe, you’re going to be OK.’ ”

Neither woman spoke any English — although they have been picking it up in the month since — but they all find ways to get their points across, MacPherson said. “It is international communication.”

The women have come along by “leaps and bounds,” she said, with both learning English and Ninel Balachiy getting a job cutting hair.

The fact that the four have come together is “amazing,” considering they were total strangers from two different worlds, MacPherson.

She said there is no problem with having the Ukrainians stay in the building because they are not being charged rent, which would be against the rules.

“This is on us,” she said. “We’re hosting them.”

Wednesday is Independence Day in Ukraine, and the group Help Ukraine Vancouver Island is urging people to show their support for the country by hanging a flag or wearing yellow and blue. A 5 p.m. rally is scheduled at the legislature.

jbell@timescolonist.com