Eric Guillermo and his young family woke up early morning on February 24, 2022 to the terrifying sounds of explosions.
“My wife and I both peered out of our windows looking for clues of what it could be, but saw nothing but disoriented street dogs,” Guillermo shared with Canadian Filipino Net (CFNet). His wife Ivanna checked her phone and learned that the explosions were caused by Russian airstrikes across Ukraine.
Guillermo, his wife Ivanna and children Sofia and Radislav were living in Kyiv when the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine started.
Guillermo and Ivanna met on a cruise ship where they both used to work. They married in 2014 and settled down in the Ukrainian capital. “We decided to settle down in Ukraine as it’s easier to get shipboard work-related documents there.” He continued working on the cruise ship until the industry came to an abrupt halt at the start of the pandemic.
For the last couple of years, Guillermo worked as a salesperson in Kyiv while Ivanna worked from home for an American-based company doing customer support.
On that fateful February morning, the Guillermo family quickly packed their bags to leave Kyiv but it proved harder than they thought. Guillermo told CFNet, “On the way to the parking lot, I started to understand that we will be facing a very challenging situation due to the traffic as I saw that our neighbours were doing the same.”
The Guillermos loaded the family car and headed out to fuel up, but the lineups were long. “We realized it was not a good idea as we might end up losing whatever gas was left in our car.” They waited it out until the crowds thinned and Guillermo managed to gas up the car.
The young family headed towards Rivne, where Ivanna’s relatives live. Guillermo added that the trip from Kyiv to Rivne would normally mean a three-hour drive. Amid the war, it took them a “painful crawl of 21 hours” to reach Rivne.
The family stayed in Rivne with Ivanna’s family and then continued their journey out of Ukraine all the way into Germany, stopping at a small town called Fellbach, which is a short distance from Stuttgart. Said Guillermo, “It’s hard and difficult to be in this situation, especially for the kids, but we are trying our best to live life normally.”
There, they applied for Canadian visas under the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel at the Canadian consular office in Stuttgart.
It has been two months since the Guillermos escaped the horrors of war and completed the arduous journey from Ukraine, but hope comes in the way of Canadian visas that have already arrived. They are scheduled to fly to Canada in early May to land in Edmonton, Alberta where Guillermo has friends and family.
When asked about his feelings for Ukraine, Guillermo introspected, “Ukraine will always be in our hearts and no doubt that is where our hearts and thoughts belong but for the sake of our children, we’ve decided that it is better to stay in Canada for good.”