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Family struggles to move on after their home was set on fire while they slept

Family of priest for St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Victoria lived in the house, which is next door to the church

For Ukrainian church priest Yuriy Vyshnevskyy, there are still days where sights, sounds and smells trigger memories of his family’s narrow escape from a fire that caused heavy damage to their Victoria home and is suspected of being arson.

He was able to salvage a pair of dress shoes — the ones he wears for church service — out of the rubble during his only visit to the house after the April 20 fire. “Even a week later, the smell of smoke still lingers on them,” he said. He might dispose of the shoes as a sign of moving on. “We have to close that chapter, move forward and start creating new memories.”

He is especially appreciative of the outpouring of support from the community as it rallied around the family in the aftermath of the fire. When the family visited the charred house last week, strangers approached them to offer money, support and encouragement. A bouquet of flowers was left at the front door.

“It is those gestures by the community that has really helped us get through this,” he said. “Through them we have seen more love and caring than evil. We will use them as the building blocks for the next chapter of our lives.”

Vyshnevskyy, with help from a neighbour, caught his three daughters as they jumped from the second floor of their house to escape the early-morning fire. He had gotten up to check on noise and discovered flames.

Vyshnevskyy, better known to his parishioners at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church as Father Yuriy, and his family barely escaped with their lives.

In the course of their escape his 11-year-old daughter landed on shattered window glass, resulting in a deep cut that severed a nerve in her arm. First responders were initially concerned about her losing a large amount of blood from her injury. She has since had two surgeries to repair the damage and doctors say that it can be up to a year before she can regain the full use of her arm. Her stitches will be removed in the coming week, but her arm will be in a splint.

While the rest of the family escaped relatively unscathed, the mental wounds may take longer to heal.

“We have received counselling services,” said Vyshnevskyy. “There is so much information to process at the same time. It takes time to prioritize the information and figure out what requires immediate action.”

The heritage home, next door to the church, sustained heavy damage, especially in the front entryway and stairs to the upper floor.

He said that he returned the next day to survey the damage. He was able to briefly enter the main floor of the house, where he was able to retrieve a few items — the shoes and church files such as baptismal records — that happened to be in an area not affected by the flames.

He could not venture up to the family’s sleeping quarters because the stairs were not safe. Since then, the fire department has advised that the whole structure is unsafe and the family has not been able to return to get any personal items.

The Victoria Police Department has determined that the fire was the result of arson. The department’s Major Crimes Unit detectives are investigating and have released a video of a vehicle that was in the vicinity at the time of the fire. They have asked for witnesses and any dashcam or video footage from the area of Cook and Caledonia between midnight and 1:30 a.m. on April 20.

Vyshnevskyy and his family has been staying at a friend’s house and are looking for a house suitable for a family of five in the Royal Jubilee area of town.

“We are together and we are trying to get back to normalcy — as much as possible — in our lives,” he said. “We try to take it one day at a time.”

parrais@timescolonist.com

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