The first-known people to feel the affects of the carbon monoxide (CO) leak at a Ponoka apartment building on Jan. 11, were a family of refugees from the war in Ukraine.
While the family is doing better physically after medical treatment, they say the whole ordeal has brought back the terror and helplessness of fleeing Russian-occupied territory.
Yuliia Zdolnyk came to Canada in May, 2023, with her mother and five-year-old daughter, Karina Istratova.
“For two weeks, we lived in the basement with almost no food or light as the rockets rang out day and night,” said Zdolnyk.
“I came to Canada and felt calm, but not for long. On Jan. 11, 2023, I again felt despair; fear of loss,” she said.
“My child was poisoned by carbon monoxide and almost died. I still have before my eyes … my child is lying in a blanket on the floor without signs of life and the colour of the skin changes to yellow-green.”
After receiving a frantic call from her cousin Yuliia at about 6:30 a.m. that morning, Iana Zdolnyk rushed over to their apartment building, located at 4611 55 St. What she saw when she arrived five minutes later will haunt her.
The young girl was unconscious on the floor on a landing between the second and third floor, and Yuliia and her mother, already too weak from the affects of the CO themselves, were unable to finish carrying her to the car.
“To see the baby lying down on the stairs … without any signs of life … that was the worst part,” said Iana.
Iana’s cell phone log shows she called 911 at 6:37 a.m.
However, the dispatcher wasn’t able to hear her over the distressed screaming of her cousin and the child’s grandmother.
Iana said she stayed on the phone for a few minutes, but ultimately decided to take them to the Ponoka hospital herself.
At first, the doctors didn’t understand the test results they were getting and were at a loss as to what was causing the girl’s symptoms, said Iana.
It wasn’t until about an hour-and-a-half later when around 10 more tenants from the building arrived that they figured it out, she said.
Media relations officer Cpl. Troy Savinkoff confirmed that at 6:38 a.m., 911 dispatch informed the Ponoka RCMP they have received a call. Screaming was heard and it was unknown at the time if RCMP or EMS were required.
A different language was heard being spoken in the background of the call, he said.
Savinkoff said the call went dead before dispatch was able to receive any information. Using GPS, RCMP were able to determine the location the call was placed, which was the apartment building.
Members went to the building and were let in by a male, who identified himself, but said he was unaware of any incident at the building.
They phoned the original caller, Iana, and learned she had gone to the hospital on her own and was already there.
Upon arriving at the hospital they were unable to locate her. Still unclear what the issue was, the officers left and made phone contact with her again. They then went back to the hospital to speak with her.
Savinkoff said the woman stated she’d been trying to call an ambulance and didn’t need police. The members ascertained there was no domestic violence and no crime had taken place, and so they left.
Savinkoff said as soon as the officers left the hospital, the Ponoka detachment received another call to the apartment building to assist EMS. It is unknown what time that call was received.
The Ponoka County Regional Fire Services only commented that the fire department had been dispatched at 7:50 a.m. and was on the scene at 8:01 a.m.
Guardian Ambulance confirmed two units responded to the incident and transported patients to the Ponoka and Lacombe hospitals.
In an interview on Jan. 11, Ponoka County protective services coordinator Donna Noble said a tenant had heard an alarm going off, activated the fire alarm pull station in the building and called 911.
It was believed there was just one working carbon monoxide alarm in the building.
For Iana, who came to Canada four years ago with her husband and three children, another chilling realization was that this could have happened to her child, as her daughter had slept over at the apartment just the night before.
Iana noted that if Yuliia hadn’t been awake that morning, her cousin’s daughter wouldn’t be here right now, as the alarm going off, presumably over an hour later, would have been too late for her.
“People go to sleep and just don’t wake up,” said Iana.
The family was sent to an Edmonton hospital where Yuliia and the girl were treated in a hypobaric oxygen chamber to re-oxygenate their blood. Thankfully, the grandmother had slept near an open window and was not as sick.
According to Iana, eight more tenants from the building arrived after them.
The family arrived back home the same day at midnight, but don’t intend to go back to that apartment. They are staying with Iana and are looking for a new place to rent.
Iana feels there should have been more alarms in the building. She also said no one has contacted her cousin’s family to follow up with them about how they’re feeling or what they might need.
“After this situation, I began to fear the evening and night — the fear that I might fall asleep and it might happen again,” said Yuliia. “I will not be able to forget it for the rest of my life.”