Tuesday marks exactly a year since the Toronto van attack and survivor Aleksandra Kozhenvnnikova says while she doesn’t remember much from that day, she knows it’s forever changed her.
“I remember very well this day a year ago. There was an act of terror that completely disfigured me,” the 91-year-old told Global News.
Kozhenvnnikova was returning home after running errands on April 23, 2018 when she was suddenly struck by a van careening down a massive stretch of Yonge Street. The driver continued to pick off pedestrians for more than a kilometre. In all, 10 people were killed and 16 injured.
“(Kozhenvnnikova) remembers being hit then nothing until three days later. She woke up in the hospital with her daughter-in-law beside her,” explained Micheal Taylor, a partner in the law firm managing her insurance case, who is translating for the Russian national.
“Her injuries are catastrophic.”
TORONTO VAN ATTACK: How 7 minutes changed the city
Kozhenvnnikova suffered hip, spinal and head injuries.
“From that time my legs aren’t functioning properly. I am in pain every day. I can’t walk much anymore,” Kozhenvnnikova said, who is mostly wheelchair bound.
And while her physical injuries are painful, she said it’s the psychological ones that are still difficult to overcome.
“I went through the Second World War. I have had many troubles and problems in my life. But I have never experienced anything as horrific as what happened or year ago,” Kozhenvnnikova said.
Still, she said she will continue to work towards healing.
“I want to live a long and happy life. I put those things behind me and I’m looking forward,” Kozhenvnnikova said.
And as she struggles with her recovery at home, people gathered up the road at Mel Lastman Square gathered in memory.
“To the families here, the families of those who were killed, we say our hearts go to you. We remember your loved one, we remember you, we share in your grief, and we hope that you know that you are not alone,” Toronto Fire Services chaplain Hugh Donnelly told those in attendance.
“A ceremony like this one helps us to break down the walls of isolation, which we use to keep ourselves separated from one another. But our pain and our anguish bring us together.”
In an interview with Global News, Harry Malawi paid tribute to his close friend, 85-year-old Munair Najjar. Najjar died in the April 23, 2018 attack.
“He was such a beautiful soul,” he said of his fellow Jordanian.
“He was just walking down Yonge Street enjoying a sunny day when he was taken from us… It has been a tough year… It is hard to bear.”
Najjar’s family said they wanted to grieve privately on Tuesday, something Malawi said he can understand.
“They are devastated. They went through a bad tragedy that happened. It was horrifying. You can imagine what the family would feel like,” he said.
Former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall ran the Toronto Strong fund, a group that collected donations for the survivors and the victims’ families.
She said while some wanted to keep their pain private a year after the tragedy, all the families were moved by the community’s generosity and, even in their moment of need, wanted to pay it forward.
“It was interesting when I met people, almost all of them asked me about those who were most severely injured (and) about a little boy’s mother who was killed,” Hall told Global News, explaining some even turned funding down to pass onto someone in greater need.
“They were very concerned about him.”
That little boy is eight-year-old Diyon Amarasingha.
“He is doing well … We have set up a trust for him,” Rev. Ahangama Rathanasiri, chief monk at the Mahavihara Buddhist Centre, explained.
Diyon’s mother, 45-year-old Renuka Amarasingha, was an active member of her religious community. She was killed in the attack shortly after leaving work at nearby Earl Haig High School.
Diyon now lives with family friends but still attends the temple.
On Sunday, a vigil was held there for his mother — a memorial that was too hard for the child to bear.
“He doesn’t like to remember the tragedy,” said Rathanasiri, explaining the young boy did not want to attend.
—With files from Jacob Cappe
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