Galyna Legenkovska fled war-torn Ukraine with her three children earlier this year, rebuilding her life in Canada while her husband stayed behind to fight invading Russian forces.
But then that new life was flipped upside down once again on Dec. 13 when her seven-year-old daughter, Mariia, was fatally struck by a vehicle on her way to school in central Montreal.
“I am very touched by the reaction of Quebec to this tragedy that has affected my family,” said Legenkovska, speaking in French during a public memorial service at the St. Sophie Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral on Tuesday evening.
She thanked everyone from politicians and police to hospital staff and community volunteers for their efforts to reach out, offer donations and raise money for her family.
Juan Manuel Becerra Garcia, 45, has been charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident in connection to Mariia’s death. He lives in Longueuil, Que., just south of Montreal.
Legenkovska’s husband arrived in Montreal on Sunday. Legenkovska said he will stay for a few months to support the family and then return to defend their home city and country against the invasion.
However, the family then intends to stay in Canada, she said.
Memorial service held to pray for girl’s soul
The memorial service, a panakhyda according to the Ukrainian Orthodox rite, was being held on the eve of the little girl’s funeral, which is planned for Wednesday morning.
Parish member Simon Kouklewsky said such memorials are traditionally held to pray for the souls of the dead.
The service is shorter than a funeral, and is usually repeated.
It’s often held on the third day, seventh day and 40th day after the day. It’s then held on the death’s anniversary. He said he is one of the singers, adding his voice to a traditional hymn that’s been modified for the service.
In practicing, he’s found himself stopping and tearing up.
“The whole year has been very emotional,” said Kouklewsky. “The country of my ancestors is being bombarded in a full-scale invasion.”
And then one family flees to the safety of Canada, only to have a child die like this is tragic, he said.
Mother says daughter ‘loved life’
Legenkovska answered questions from reporters before the service with the help of a translator. She said her family is suffering, but everyone knows they can’t change what happened.
She said they have to get used to life without her.
“She was a happy child. She was a child who loved life,” Legenkovska said through the translator. “Mariia will be upon us now and all the children.”
Looking through photos, she found a selfie of Mariia. She remembers her saying, “I love Montreal. I am here now.”
Mariia’s death has sent shock waves through Montreal and prompted indignation among residents of the Ville-Marie borough. The community has been demanding pedestrian safety improvements for years.
The city’s ombudsman has opened an investigation into the girl’s death.
Michael Shwec, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress for Quebec, said Montreal’s Ukrainian community is still in shock.
“A seven-year-old girl went to school in the morning and then, bam, it’s over. It’s very difficult to accept,” he said.
Shwec, who has met with Legenkovska, said the community’s support has been greatly appreciated. An online fundraising campaign has raised more than $150,000 in six days.
Shwec said Global Affairs Canada’s effort to quickly get Mariia’s father to Montreal has been appreciated as well.