Amidst an ongoing international conflict, Svitlana Podzizei packed up and left her home in Ukraine earlier this year with nowhere to go and only 600 American Dollars in her pocket.
Podzizei, with limited options, says that she decided to come to Manitoba because she knew the province had deep Ukrainian roots. She explains that she was just looking for a job to survive upon arrival.
That's when Kelsey Filion-Drozduk, the owner of Mcdonald's in Portage la Prairie, stepped up and offered her a job.
"She helped me to move from Winnipeg to Portage, and I really like your town," says Podzizei. "It's very clean and nice, and the people are very, very friendly. She took me to her house, and I lived with her family for about a week."
Filion-Drozduk then helped find the Ukrainian native a place to live and introduced Podzizei to the McDonald's team as an Office Manager.
"She (Podzizei) is wonderful, and that's what I recognized the moment she applied and we met her. She had owned a business in Ukraine. She's very smart. She speaks multiple languages. So, she understands the ins and outs of running a business, which I was really grateful for. That's why I put her in a position where she's helping me with the office administration because she's run a business before," says Filion-Drozduk.
The Owner and Operator of the Portage Mcdonalds spoke about bringing in Podzizei to live with her family while she was settling in.
"She got to live with us for just over a week. It was pretty cool. We did a lot of amazing things, like cooking food together and spending time together. I have two kids and a husband, so she got to spend time with us, and I slowly eased her into the business."
Podzizei says that Filion-Drozduk has helped her with every aspect of her life since coming over.
"I don't think that I've ever met such great people like Kelsey and her family in my entire life."
Podzizei has been working in Portage for the last four months. During that time, Filion-Drozduk continued supporting Ukrainian war refugees by hiring another five to join the Mcdonald's team.
"We're just trying to get them settled and comfortable and develop them based on their interests," continues Filion-Drozduk. "It's been a wonderful journey, and I'm feeling very blessed to be able to help."
Filion-Drozduk extended a shoutout to the people of Portage as she is new to the community too, moving to the city just one year ago.
"I want people to come to McDonald's and leave with a smile. It's about finding the right people to get into the organization to drive my vision, and I want to take care of my people. I want to take care of my guests, right? Like it's all about the people on both sides of the business."
As for Podzizei's future in the City of Possibilities, she says that's a tricky question, seeing as she misses her family, noting that due to recent electricity problems, she hasn't been able to talk on the phone with her husband or parents.
"I really miss my country, and I can't tell you what's going to be next because I just don't know. I know that I like this place. I like the people here. People are very, very supportive, but I miss my home."
The war between Ukraine and Russia officially started on February 24th, 2022.