Bright Side of Business: Ottawa woman plucks her Ukrainian parents from war-torn Kyiv

Skobal
Maryna Skobal (far right) with her parents, Natalia (far left) and Mykhailo (middle), who have relocated to Ottawa from their home in Ukraine amid the war.
Editor's Note

Anyone who knows Maryna Skobal knows that she loves helping people, so it should come as no surprise that she’s a recruiter at Altis Excel, helping her clients find their dream jobs.

Skobal worked as an office manager and executive assistant in her native Ukraine. When she moved to Canada in 2015, in her first six months she worked as a cashier and in restaurants as a hostess. “I even worked as a cleaner, which I was very proud of because I've gotten to meet many great people,” Skobal says.

Eventually Skobal started working full-time for a Toronto recruitment agency. After two or three years, she and her husband made their way to Ottawa, where Skobal’s niece lived.

“It made me realize that, no matter what it's going to cost me, I'll do whatever is possible to save my parents and help as many people as I can.” 

In 2019, Skobal joined Altis Excel. “I met with a great team,” Skobal says. “I'm very fortunate to be here right now.”

Skobal and her husband soon settled into Ottawa life. Skobal’s parents, Natalia and Mykhailo, were set to visit from Ukraine to celebrate Skobal’s 30th birthday on March 1 — but then things changed drastically. 

On February 23, Skobal’s mother called, telling her that the Russian military invasion of Ukraine had begun. “It was hard to believe what had started,” Skobal remembers. “I started asking her many questions.” 

That night, Maryna stayed up late calling friends and family in Ukraine. “It made me realize that, no matter what it's going to cost me, I'll do whatever is possible to save my parents and help as many people as I can,” Skobal says.

Skobal and her niece’s husband, Bogdan, made an “instant decision” to head to the Poland-Ukraine border to meet Skobal’s parents and other family members. The trio called each other early in the morning and, while on the phone, purchased tickets to travel the following day at noon. 

At the border, Skobal and Bogdan met 13 of their family members, plus four dogs, who had arrived in just three cars; Skobal’s parents had driven across Kyiv packed in with 11 other family members. “That's how insane it was,” Skobal says. 

Skobal and Bogdan arranged transport and accommodations for their family, while also lending “mental and moral support,” Skobal says. 

Since arriving in Canada, Natalia and Mykhailo — and their dog — have been living with Skobal and her husband. 

Skobal has worked hard to make the transition as easy as possible for her parents. Once their documents come together, she says, her parents would like to find work. 

Natalia is a seamstress of 30-some years and Mykhailo has been an entrepreneur for many years, selling car parts and providing services. The couple hopes to work together.

“They would really enjoy working on the farm, working with honey, working with animals,” Skobal says. “I think that they would be super happy because they both came from small villages.”

For several weeks at the start of the war, Skobal worked closely with five other women in Ottawa, collecting donations to provide food, medication and essentials like diapers to people in Ukraine. 

Altis Recruitment also has initiatives supporting Ukrainian newcomers, such as a step-by-step guide on starting a job search. 

“Many colleagues of mine helped me donate clothes, food (and) money,” Skobal says. “I got lots of support from my leadership as well, moral and workwise.” 

Skobal’s advice for Canadians supporting newcomers from Ukraine is to be open with information and to provide accommodation, clothing or food donations. Specifically, she suggests donating to Maidan Market at Westgate Shopping Centre, a volunteer-run initiative where people can select the items they need, from clothing and food to personal hygiene items.

“I'm proud of everyone I knew during this time,” Skobal says, adding that she’s very thankful for her colleagues at Altis Excel, her friends and family across the world, and to Bogdan, who was with her in Poland “at each step of this scary journey.”

The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.

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