Ukraine’s Matkovska finds work in Carp

By Jake Davies - West Carleton Online

CARP – In 2021, Galya Matkovska was planning her life in Kyiv, Ukraine with her husband Andrew Matkovskyi, the two expecting their first child at the end of the year.

On Feb. 24, 2022 the young family, now with two-month-old daughter Sofia and Gayla’s mother Dr. Oksana Vakhtina, were fleeing the country as Russia’s military began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Last Tuesday (Dec. 13) was day three for Matkovska at her new job working at Carp-based public relations and communications firm Syntax Strategic.

“Actually, we were preparing for it,” Matkovska told West Carleton Online from her new office about fleeing Ukraine.
At the time, Matkovska and her family had already left their apartment in Kyiv and moved in with her mother in the Odessa Region, only three hours from the border on the opposite side of Russia.

Her mother was planning on staying, and would look after Matkovska’s dog. They knew of a ferry, which they were told would be much quicker than the days-long line-ups at the border crossing.

“The first night we didn’t sleep at all,” Matkovska said. “My mom was really scared and decided to come and we brought the dog.”

Although all their dog documents were back in Kyiv, neighbouring countries were so eager to help, it ended up not being an issue at the border.

The four, plus one dog, eventually made their way to Poland, where they spent the next three months trying to figure out what to do.

“We were going to live in Kyiv and build our life there,” Matkovska said. “On Feb. 24, our plan was to cross the border and go from there.”

There was a group of Ukrainian refugees all in the same Polish neighbourhood, all trying to decide what to do next.

“Some went back to Kyiv,” Motkovska said. “At that time it seemed more or less safe. I was scared. We didn’t feel it was safe. With a little baby, we should give her a chance for a more or less normal life. As we look back now, with the electricity problems and infrastructure attacks, we were right.”

Their apartment in Kyiv was close to a military base. Matkovska said on Feb. 26 she saw a news photo of a burned-our Russian tank on her street.

In the end, options invariably pointed to Ottawa. Matkovska’s husband is an engineer for a  Sillicone Valley-based company with office in Kyiv and Canada. Matkovska had skills useful in the nation’s capital as well. Three years ago she worked for the Ukraine’s Ministry of Health in communications as the country was reforming its health care system. At the time war broke out, Matkovska was a press secretary for a national gas and oil company known as Naffogaz.

That was experience Syntax Strategic founder and president Jennifer Stewart coveted.

“When I interviewed her, I was interviewing others,” Stewart told West Carleton Online. “Obviously I was moved by her story, but I also saw a lot of potential.”

Syntax Strategic is a communications, marketing and advocacy firm working nationally with businesses, nonprofits and government clients across the country, based in Carp.

“As a mother, I don’t know if I could do it,” Stewart said of picking up everything and leaving everything you know behind.

“We all think we can. But to get up and leave your life with your two-month-old baby and start a brand new life. That’s a special skill set.”

When Matkovska and her family landed in Ottawa roughly six months ago, they eventually found an apartment in the Edinburgh area.

“Many Ukrainians settled there,” she said. “There were many host families there. We were welcomed there.”
Despite the warm welcome, employment and a place to live, the transition hasn’t been easy.

“It’s still hard,” Matkovska said. “We’re trying to live our life, but sometimes I’m thinking of my flat, my plants in my flat, my friends who are in Kyiv. But we’ve met some amazing people. Even my mother, whose English isn’t great, has met new people. We feel safe. It’s really cute when people try to learn Ukrainian words.”

Matkovska said finding work was a challenge as well. While her English is excellent, it is not her first language, and a potential stumbling block for someone with a communications background.

“I didn’t have real expectations,” Matkovska said when first looking for work. “I lost some time trying to find a job on my own terms. I started networking and met some great people. I was told the best coffee shops, the best parks, the best daycare.”

And finally that networking brought her to the attention of Stewart. Stewart says she knew she wanted someone with Matkovska’s unique experience, but on day three of the new job, hasn’t given her a dedicated assignment yet.

“We continue to grow year over year,” Stewart said. “We’ll be able to use Galya for digital, social media, strategy. We’re trying a little bit of everything. Her English, and especially her written English, is very good. We recognize the different skills she’s bringing in.”

For Matkovska, while things are starting to return to a “more or less” state of normalcy, just like on Feb. 24, she’s unsure what the future holds.

While her mother plans on a return to Ukraine hopefully next year, Matkovska is unsure what she will do.

“I don’t know to be honest,” she said. “I believe Ukraine will win this war. The only thing Russia can do is terrorize civilians, but as long as Russia exists, it will always be in the back of our mind. We wouldn’t feel safe.”

No matter what her decision ends up being, she will always love her home country, and hopes people and countries around the world will continue to support Ukraine with humanitarian and military aid.

“I believe it is really important to share the idea Ukraine still needs support,” Matkovska said. “We need money. For humanitarian and military aid. It’s crucial for us to survive. It’s crucial for Europe to survive, for the whole world.”

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