Family of Ukrainian refugees grateful to be alive after Winnipeg apartment fire

A family of three Ukrainian refugees in Winnipeg were rescued through their third-storey window after being trapped by thick smoke inside a burning apartment building on Thursday.

“It’s unbelievable,” Alana Pluzhnyk told CBC News after she and her 62-year-old mother and 10-year-old daughter safely escaped St. Josaphat Selo-Villa, an eight-storey highrise for people 55 and older, on McGregor Street between Stella and Flora avenues.

The family was living there thanks to efforts of the affiliated Ukrainian catholic church, Sts. Vladimir and Olga Cathedral.

They are now among 18 people displaced by the fire, which was contained to a third-floor suite, although several other areas sustained smoke and water damage, according to Andrew Radawetz, interim property manager at the residence.

The Pluzhnyk family has been in Winnipeg since September after fleeing the war in Ukraine almost one year ago. This is the second time they’ve lost everything.

They managed to stuff some documents and phones in a backpack and throw it out the window before climbing onto firefighter ladders, Pluzhnyk said.

“We ran from the war, and we know the necessities we had to take.”

Emergency crews were called just before 1:30 a.m. to the building.

Multiple 911 calls came in about a number of occupants trapped in the building due to heavy smoke in the hallways, a news release from the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service said.

Pluzhnyk said she initially thought the fire alarm was a fluke, as there had been a false alarm a couple days before.

She opened the door to her hallway, didn’t see or smell any smoke, and returned to her bed. There, she opened the window and eventually began to smell smoke.

Pluzhnyk then returned to the hallway where she said a wall of black smoke had formed near the door to her apartment.

She woke her mother and daughter. Smoke began to enter their suite as they dressed, she said.

“At that time, we understood that everything was serious,” said Pluzhnyk.

“There was one moment where I was afraid, because we couldn’t go through the hall or through the window.”

A brown brick exterior wall of a building shows a broken window following a fire.
Most fire damage was contained to a third-floor suite, while several other areas of the building sustained smoke and water damage, the city said in a news release. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Several residents with disabilities were helped by firefighters to get down the stairs and out of the building. In addition to the Pluzhnyks, one other person had to be rescued through an exterior window.

After the fire was put out, firefighters gave residents five minutes to retrieve necessary items. Pluzhnyk and her family are now staying at a hotel.

“We don’t know when we’ll come back to our apartment,” she said. “I don’t know how we can go to school. I don’t know how I can live.”

Although her family has the bare necessities, Pluzhnyk said they are grateful to still have their lives.

“Sometimes, people can be happy with nothing.”

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