By Sucheta Singh, Marketing and Communications
“Refugees are the human eye of another community. I never imagined that it would happen to me. It can happen to anyone.”
Malena Mokhovikova is recounting her incredible story, as she has done numerous times since she was 12 years old.
Now 17, her story is becoming known to a wider audience, thanks to a comic strip featuring her family on SkyTrain cars and billboards around Metro Vancouver.
“It’s incredible that people are willing to raise awareness about it,” she says.
Malena’s story begins in Russia. Her mother is Russian and Jewish, and her father is Afghani and Muslim. Because of this, they were targets of racial violence.
“One time my brother came home beaten up with a shaved head, shaved eyebrows and shaved eyelashes,” she recalls.
At one point the brother, Mamun, went missing for three days. The police wouldn’t help find him. After hiring a private investigator, the family found him in a psychiatric ward, with brain damage. Mamun was diagnosed with schizophrenia soon after.
Five years ago, Malena, her mother and her younger sister took a 10-day holiday cruise from New York to Eastern Canada. During a phone call home after docking in Quebec City, Malena’s father told them not to come back. The family home had been attacked.
With $100 to their name, they bought bus tickets from Quebec City to Vancouver.
“We put as much stuff as we could on ourselves. We brought only a small bag with the most important belongings,” Malena says.
At the time, Malena says she was too young to understand the significance of what was happening.
“I didn’t realize I would never see my friends again, I would never see my school again and I wouldn’t see my brother and my dad for the next three years.”
After arriving in Vancouver, the family received help from a refugee agency. Malena’s father and brother came to Canada two years ago. Her father has also been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Malena says it was hard to explain to her little sister what was happening.
“She looked up to me, and we fell into a deep depression. We were laughed at at school when we came here because we didn’t speak English.”
The Mokhovikova family’s journey has been captured in a comic strip by Cloudscape Comics, which is on display in a Comics in Transit exhibit along with several others at the New Westminster Campus until March 29. Malena hopes it will help educate people as to what a refugee is.
“’Refugee’ is just a name, just a definition in a book. What we are survivors from another community.”
Malena will be graduating from Britannia Secondary this spring. She’s on the basketball team, and has been accepted to Douglas College on a basketball scholarship this fall. She plans to study psychology, given her family history.
“I chose Douglas because it just felt right. They have a good basketball team, and coach and coaches are a big thing for me.”
After all she’s been through, Malena says she’s come to realize something.
“I finally have a place to call home.”