This story has been amended to include a photo of the family home after it was bombed. A previous version of the story included an erroneous photo that showed the wreckage of a relative’s home.
We start in the before time.
They were a family of five living in the suburbs of Kharkov. Friends. Family. A dog and a cat.
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It was before the missiles, before Zelensky asked the international community for ammunition, before the atrocities in Bucha. It was also before the hatred.
Sitting in a Coquitlam basement, Oleksiy Mykhaylichenko is speaking English and talking about language. There used to be a mix of Ukrainian and Russian spoken in the streets of Kyiv. About 50/50, he says.
Six months after the start of the war, 98 percent of the people in Kyiv speak Ukrainian, Mykhaylichenko estimates.
“They hate all things connected to Russia,” he says.
His wife, Olha Yampolska, sits in the corner of the room, setting up their youngest two children with a cartoon. Six months ago she was a gynecologist doing ultrasound diagnostics.
They were doing well in those before times.
They built a house. They formed a life.
“Somehow everything in our lives was in harmony,” Yampolska writes in an account of the family’s struggles.
The family was on vacation in Sri Lanka when the before time ended.
“My father called and said: ‘Tanks and armored personnel carriers with the Z logo are driving past the house,’ Yampolska recounts. “it was unexpected and scary, and it didn’t fit in my head at all, how our ‘fellow Russians’ could come to our land killing people and destroying our former life.”
Russian soldiers occupied the neighbourhood, she adds, making communication difficult.
“War broke all plans,” her husband says.
They had tickets to Kyiv but the airline company rerouted the family to Vienna where they spent 10 days crammed in a small apartment before hopping a flight to Canada.
“Our life is divided into Before and After,” Yampolska concludes.
The basement suite tends to be too hot or too cold, Mykhaylichenko acknowledges. In his house he used to be able to regulate the temperature in each room.
On April 17 a Russian bomb hit the roof of our house and it burned down,” Yampolska reports. “The dog ran away in fear.”
The house, like so much of the family’s previous life, is gone, says Iryna, the couple’s daughter.
“I really miss my friends,” she says. “I had a lot of plans for my life in Ukraine.”
She turned 18 recently. A year ago she was mapping out her life and her future career.
“I can’t imagine my next five years. I can imagine only tomorrow and today,” she says.
Deciding to go to court
For Mykhaylichenko, the decision to sue came down to one simple truth.
“War needs money,” he says.
It’s not just about the money for his house. It’s about Ukraine and it’s about every other country threatened by Russia, he says.
“I cannot fight like a troop,” he says. “I have decided to fight in court.”
The lawsuit filed by the families of the victims of Flight 752 in Iran could be a precedent, according to Lana Shparberg, administrative services manager with Deer Lake Law Group.
“The Canadian court awarded million of dollars because they held Iran responsible,” she says.
However, for the lawsuit to move forward, Canada would have to add the Russian Federation to the list of nations that support terrorism under the State Immunity Act.
The suit is an effort to hold Vladimir Putin responsible for the destruction of property as well as the emotional and physical suffering caused by the assault on Ukraine.
The family’s lawyers recently issued a demand letter to the Russian federation asking for damages for lost income, damages associated with homelessness and relocation, as well as loss of enjoyment of life. The family is asking for a total of approximately $1.6 million in damages, as well as a letter of apology from Putin and the Russian Federation.
“Holding the Russian Federation and Mr. Putin responsible for losses suffered by Ukrainians sends a message to the Russian Federation and Mr. Putin that war is a political act with personal consequences to the perpetrators,” stated a press release from Deer Lake Law Group.