Tearful hugs are not unusual at St. John's International Airport, but for the Ukrainians who arrived in Newfoundland and Labrador — and the loved ones waiting for them — on Tuesday night, they marked the end of a stressful chapter in a long, harrowing journey.
Serhii Kuper has been in Newfoundland and Labrador since June, when he arrived on the second government-chartered flight for people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
On Tuesday evening, he was back in the airport, this time waiting to be reunited with his aunt and grandmother. He said he couldn't explain how happy he was.
"I'm very excited because I've been waiting for them all this time," he said.
Kuper's aunt and grandmother were two of 187 Ukrainians who arrived on a fourth flight chartered by the provincial government. According to the immigration department, approximately 1,500 Ukrainians have come to Newfoundland and Labrador since March, including about 700 via provincial government flights.
Kuper said he's missed his family, and his elderly grandmother's escape from the war was a particular worry.
"It was a very stressful period," he said.
He convinced his family to come to the province because he already feels at home, despite the weather — a thick, cold fog blanketed the city on Tuesday evening.
"It doesn't matter the cold, what's more important is the warmth of hearts of people who live here," he said.
Kuper wasn't just at the airport for the reunion though — he now works for the Association for New Canadians, helping other Ukrainians get settled. On Tuesday night, he was driving people to their new accommodations. The provincial government says they'll stay in temporary accommodations, like hotels, until they can get settled in more permanent housing.
Anastasiia Revina embraced her mother and grandmother when they arrived. It was the first time she's seen them in nine months.
"It was so hard," she said.
Revina also reunited with her two-year-old pet rabbit.
Ira Fediv, who arrived on a flight with her husband and two young children, said she was at peace.
"We made a decision to go to the country where we can be together [and be] safe," she said.
Fediv worked as an interpreter for Eric and Margie Fowler, a L'Anse au Loup couple, when they were in Ukraine. On Tuesday, they reunited on the other side of the ocean.
"We're happy that they're safe," Eric said, his voice breaking.
A new adventure
Two families were headed to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, where they'll connect with family members already settling in.
"I've got big reunions tomorrow, in Labrador," said Lake Melville MHA Perry Trimper.
Shortly after walking off the plane, Sofiia Galasym, a 34-year-old Ukrainian, said she was excited — but tired — after a three-day journey, which began in western Ukraine.
"It's like ... adventure," she said. "Probably all people who are coming to some new place have some adventure in their heart, and I am as well."
Despite the new adventure, Galasym said she'll be missing her family over the holidays, and her thoughts were with those still in Ukraine.
"It's scary and hard to leave," she said.