Mark Motorenko let out joyful squeals Saturday morning as Captain Doug Petti lifted him into a fire truck at Burnaby’s hall No. 1.
It was the first time the eight-year-old Ukrainian refugee had seen inside such a vehicle. Normally, he cowers if sirens from the truck blast through his new Burnaby neighbourhood.
“The sounds scare him,” said his mother Yelyzaveta, 26, who fled from Kyiv to Canada five months ago with her husband Bogdan, 28.
The family came to Metro Vancouver seeking a better life for their son, who lives with cerebral palsy.
After Mark was lifted back down from the truck and into his wheelchair, he was presented with five large gifts by Petti, Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley and Peter Julian, the MP of New Westminster-Burnaby.
The group invited the family to the firehall Saturday for a surprise.
Underneath the wrapping paper was the standing device Mark had used back home to strengthen his muscles, which are affected by a developmental disease that affects his movement, balance and posture.
The child smiled with glee to see the return of remnants of his old life. The other gifts were his walker and tricycle.
“It’s important for Mark’s mobility and quality of life that he has these,” Bogdan said. “They were impossible for us to replace because what costs $600 in Ukraine, costs $6,000 here in Canada.”
Since war broke out where they lived in Kyiv in February, both parents agree that their son hasn’t quite been himself.
Before Russia’s invasion, Mark had made progress with daily physiotherapy and had begun to stand on his own and took his first step. But since Feb. 25, when the blast of a nearby missile awoke the child in terror, he has been reluctant to move.
“He is very scared,” Yelyzaveta said. “That’s why we left, he was so nervous every night and would cry all night about the war.”
The Motorenkos fled the Ukrainian capital days after the conflict began in late February. They left their belongings behind.
By September, settled in the Lower Mainland, they reached out to Julian’s office in desperate need of retrieving their son’s specialized medical equipment.
“It would cost thousands of dollars to ship their special needs child’s medical equipment from Ukraine to Canada,” the MP said Saturday in a news release. “It was impossible for a refugee family, fleeing from a war zone, to come up with such an enormous amount.”
So, the Burnaby Firefighters Charitable Society quickly stepped in to cover the costs.
“We’re just happy to get this equipment back into Mark’s hands,” Petti said.
The family plans to haul the equipment home, to Burnaby, where they live with sponsors Susan Millar and Deepak Sahasrabudhe.
Julian said Saturday that hundreds of other Burnaby residents have offered up their homes to Ukrainian refugees this year.
“Tragically, as this brutal invasion continues we will see more families coming.”
The MP acknowledged the serious challenges the refugees face upon arriving in Canada. “My office is hearing some Ukrainian families here are struggling to put food on the table right now.”
Julian said, “the important thing is that as they come, they are being supported by their new community — as Mark has.”
Yelyzaveta hopes that her son will soon find the courage to try to walk again, with help of the equipment.
“We’re thankful for all the Canadians who have helped us and Mark,” Yelyzaveta said.
“If he is happy, we are happy.”