Aurum Award winner Igor Yushchenko brings Ukrainians to safer lands
By Allison Barss
‘Don’t give up.’ It sounds simple, but it’s a tough lesson that Ukrainian native and Halifax-based lawyer, Igor Yushchenko (LLM’12), has learned throughout life’s hardships — and continues to apply to what lies ahead. “Obstacles will happen, but when you overcome them, you learn a valuable lesson,” he says. “Coming to Canada has taught me this.”
Growing up in Ukraine, and following in the footsteps of his hard-working, successful parents — both accountants — Yushchenko dreamed of a career in law. “I wanted to be a crown prosecutor — to put bad guys in jail and make the world a safer place,” shares the Aurum Award recipient.
After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law in Ukraine, he landed a crown attorney placement in Kyiv, but quickly learned it wasn’t a right fit. “I saw a lot of police brutality in that role, and realized I’d rather protect people from that.”
Looking to further his education in law and explore a new country, Yushchenko arrived in Canada in September of 2011 to study at Dalhousie, where he eventually earned his Master of Laws degree in 2012.
It was an eye-opening time, he shares. “Compared to my studies in Ukraine — where if a professor tells you to do something, you do it and you don’t ask questions — I chose subjects and professors I enjoyed at Dal, and actually talked to those professors. It created a sense of trust and openness. That was life changing.”
With a plan to return to Ukraine after earning his Dal degree, Yushchenko says he experienced second thoughts. “That’s when someone told me I couldn’t practice law here in Canada; that I’ll face challenges getting my license. Something inside of me said to prove them wrong.”
Yushchenko made the decision to settle in Halifax, earning his license to practice law, creating IY Law Firm — specializing in real estate, corporate law, personal injury, civil litigation and immigration — and marrying and starting a family with his Dalhousie sweetheart (which he says is his greatest accomplishment).
“That was the hardest thing,” he says. “Denying that it’s impossible, accepting that it won’t be easy, and facing the challenges that may lie ahead. But, still striving for the life you know you deserve.”
A harsh reality
Over ten years after settling in Halifax, the news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022 shook Yushchenko’s world.
His family was in Kyiv when things started. “I wanted to get them out as fast as possible,” he says. “It took three or four days for them to cross the border, and no sleep. But they are now here in Nova Scotia. They are safe.”
But Yushchenko felt he needed to do more. “I’m a lawyer, I know about immigration, so I knew I needed to use my experience — my knowledge — to help others.”
He quickly joined forces with Halifax-based lawyer, Jason Woycheshyn, and worked with the Nova Scotia and Canadian governments to create new programs to help expedite Ukrainian immigration. “For the first three or four months, the phone didn’t stop ringing,” shares Yushchenko. “And even once those families left Ukraine, many kept calling to talk to us, asking for recommendations on where to settle, what jobs to look for.”
Over a year after the start of the war in Ukraine, Yushchenko — like many of us — says he hopes things will be over soon. “There will be a massive amount of work needed to help rebuild that country,” he says. “Lawyers will be needed, and I want to be a part of that team. I am ready.”
Yushchenko adds that it’s his drive to help others that keeps him going. “I feel like I can provide the motivation that [prospective immigrants] may be missing,” he says. “I want others to see me as an example — to see that as an immigrant, you can still achieve anything in this life. Living your ideal life is not a club for only blessed and chosen people. It’s a message I share with my children, too.”
“Everyone has the right to shape their future, so don’t give up. Knock on every single door. Eventually, one will open.”