Business on the upside: Ottawa woman moves her Ukrainian parents out of war-torn Kyiv

Anyone who knows Maryna Skobal knows that she loves helping people, so it should come as no surprise that she is a recruiter at Altis Excel and helps 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 got to meet so many great people,” she says.

Skobal eventually began working full time for a Toronto recruitment agency. After two or three years, she and her husband headed to Ottawa, where Skobal’s niece lived.

“It made me realize that no matter what it costs me, I will do my best to save my parents and help as many people as I can.”

In 2019, Skobal joined Altis Excel. “I met a great team,” says Skobal. “I am very lucky to be here right now.”

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

On February 23, Skobal’s mother called and told him that the Russian military invasion of Ukraine had begun. “It was hard to believe what had started,” recalls Skobal. “I started asking him a lot of questions.”

That night, Maryna stayed up late calling friends and family in the Ukraine. “She made me realize that no matter what it takes, I will do my best to save my parents and help as many people as I can,” says Skobal.

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

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

Skobal and Bogdan arranged transportation and lodging for their family, while providing “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 his parents. Once his papers are together, he says, his parents would like to find a job.

Natalia is a seamstress in her 30s and Mykhailo has been an entrepreneur for many years, selling auto parts and providing services. The pair look forward to working together.

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

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

Altis Recruitment also has initiatives that support Ukrainian newcomers, such as a step-by-step guide to starting a job search.

“Many colleagues of mine helped me donate clothes, food (and) money,” says Skobal. “I received a lot of support from my leadership as well, morally and labor-wise.”

Skobal’s advice to Canadians supporting newcomers from Ukraine is to be open with information and provide donations of accommodation, clothing or food. Specifically, she suggests donating to the 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 am proud of everyone I met during this time,” says Skobal, adding that she is very grateful to her colleagues at Altis Excel, her friends and family around the world, and to Bogdan, who was with her in Poland “in every step of this terrifying journey.”

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

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