Trofim Modlyi is breathing a sigh of relief. The 19-year-old, who is from Khabarovsk in eastern Russia, near the border with China, received notice at the end of 2022 that his claim for refugee status in Canada had been accepted.
“I no longer need to worry about going back to Russia. Obviously I felt, like, fully safe that I don’t need to go to Ukraine and take part in this war,” Modlyi said.
Modlyi was visiting his sister, Valeriia Granillo, in Grande Prairie, Alta., when Russia invaded Ukraine last February. Granillo, who moved to Canada in 2012 in search of better opportunities, now works in cancer care and is a Canadian citizen.
While he was in Canada, his parents received a conscription notice for him. That is when Modlyi said he decided to apply to become a refugee.
“There is no possibility for me to [go] home because I would be drafted [into] the war, and I don’t want to take part in it. I don’t want to kill innocent people in Ukraine,” he said.
Simon Yu, an immigration and refugee lawyer in Edmonton, worked with Modlyi on the claim. Modlyi was determined by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) to be a Convention refugee — a status that is granted to someone who is outside their home country and is not able to return because of a “well-founded fear of persecution.”
“He and his sister and his parents back home strongly believed that if he goes back there, there would be a strong opportunity that he will be sent to the conflict area — he would be fighting in Ukraine,” the lawyer said.
Yu said the family provided newspaper articles that conscripts were being sent to the front lines and that the atrocities committed in Bucha, Ukraine, against civilians in the early days of the war involved soldiers from Modlyi’s region, all of which supported his refugee claim.
“It was a relief for me — and for both of them, too — because now we know that he doesn’t need to go back and face imminent danger, whether it’s a criminal prosecution by the government or being sent to fight in Ukraine,” Yu said.
Claims returning to pre-pandemic levels
The number of refugee claims from people from Russia are slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels.
Statistics from Canada’s IRB show that 115 people applied for refugee status between Feb. 24, 2022, the start of the war, to Nov. 30, 2022.
During the same time period in 2021, claims from 47 people were referred to the board, compared with 24 in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, and 96 in 2019.
Maria Popova, an associate professor at McGill University in Montreal who specializes in Russian politics, said Russia has had a very oppressive regime for at least 10 years that targeted political dissidents and LGBTQ individuals.
But she is surprised that the refugee claim numbers for 2022 are not higher.
“Launching a war of aggression like the Russian state has done against Ukraine, I would think that more people would have wanted to leave Russia as a sign of protest,” Popova said.
‘I miss my family’
Granillo, Modlyi’s sister, said the decision in favour of her brother’s refugee claim took a weight off her shoulders.
“All this time I’ve been thinking of him going back. What are we going to do?” she said.
But Granillo is clear that this is not how she hoped her brother would be able to stay in Canada.
“The price we pay as a humanity is so much,” she said, referring to the war. “How many people every day now are losing their lives?”
As for Modlyi, he is adjusting to his new life in Canada. He started working at a local McDonald’s, plays volleyball and wants to go back to school to become a pharmacist.
However, now that his claim has been accepted, Modlyi can never return to Russia, even if there is a regime change.
Granillo is hopeful, though, that, one day, she will be able to sponsor their parents to come to Canada so the family can be reunited.
“I miss my family. My mom and dad are still there,” Modlyi said. “That’s the only thing I missed about Russia, but hopefully we’ll see each other somewhere else.”