Far from her war-torn home, a Ukrainian in St. John's struggles with 'survival guilt'

Tata Senique, right, is pictured with her husband, Oleksii Senyk, and her son, Myron. (Submitted by Tata Senique - image credit)
Tata Senique, right, is pictured with her husband, Oleksii Senyk, and her son, Myron. (Submitted by Tata Senique - image credit)
Submitted by Tata Senique
Submitted by Tata Senique

There are a lot of things in Tata Senique's new home to get used to.

The weather can turn on a dime, and that really is different from her city in Ukraine. These days, she's checking the weather forecast multiple times a day.

She's still not sure how to plan for the winter, and she's heard conflicting opinions on how much she'll need a snowblower once the snow really starts piling up near her home on Hamilton Avenue.

But her biggest roadblock is one routine action that may never cause her neighbours to think twice. Tonight, when she's safe in her house, she can turn the heat up and down at will — as much or as little as she wants.

Unlike everybody back home.

"In my attempt to be closer to my people in Ukraine, I have that impulse whenever my husband turns on the electric fireplace," she said. "I want to tell him, let's not do that, let's freeze, let's be cold to be closer to people in Ukraine."

"Obviously, it won't help anyone. That's why I don't say it, I don't say it loud. I just think of it."

LISTEN | Tata Senique speaks about missing Ukraine on The St. John's Morning Show:

Her family in Newfoundland thinks that's foolish, and she expects her relatives back home in Ukraine would agree. But she said none of them would criticize too harshly because everyone's dealing with some version of what she's feeling.

Senique and her family arrived in the province in June, on the second flight of Ukranian citizens to arrive at the St. John's airport. That adjustment — leaving a country at war for a new home more than 6,000 kilometres away — has been challenging.

"Many of us have experienced survival guilt, right?" she said. "For my family, they experience it in their own way and I don't think that they try to suppress my emotions, they just realize that expressing it in that way won't help us."

Senique says she'll try to analyze her feelings and redirect her energy into something productive — like donations for her fellow Ukrainians who are stuck inside war zones. She calls herself part of the "information infantry," trying to use whatever tools she has to raise awareness of the problems back home.

Submitted by Tata Senique
Submitted by Tata Senique

All that only helps so much.

"Really, the worst that I think, I want to suffer with my people. And I don't like that now, I'm in comfort here and I cannot suffer with them properly, because suffering here makes no sense."

A fresh round of missile strikes knocked out power across Ukraine again this week, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned Monday of more emergency blackouts.

Senique said it's been a reality for weeks for her family back home, who live near Dnipro, a city about 100 kilometres from the front lines.

The city is has evolved into a humanitarian site, where people get off the battlefields and into hospitals or shelters.

It should be safe, Senique tells herself, although from time to time more anxious thoughts break through.

"It's war and anything can happen," she said.

Submitted by Tata Senique
Submitted by Tata Senique

The availability of home heating tools is no longer a given, but for Senique, the toughest losses are in the internet networks that keep her and her family connected.

"We are going crazy here because we get used to being able to get in touch with our family and friends easily." she said.

"Even if you don't [chat with] them, you check how many hours ago they were online and if it's like more than 12 hours, 24 hours, you start thinking things."

As much as she tries to channel her energy into something constructive, like donation drives, and focusing on her work with the Association for New Canadians in St. John's, she still drifts into a familiar but uncomfortable pattern. Watching the war on her home country, on a television thousands of kilometres away.

Unable to know the future, or change it. Just watching.

She'd love to go back home, but she came here with her husband and her son, to try to give him a bit of normalcy in his education. It will be a group decision.

"I believe that Ukraine will prevail and will win, but there are so many factors that we need to take in," she said. "So I have no idea what will happen."

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