ladies pads manufacturers plastic plate making machine:Escaping Romania: how my dad survived crossing Europe❼❋oodiest border✩n 1980 and settled in Saskatoon

ladies pads manufacturers plastic plate making machine:Escaping Romania: how my dad survived crossing Europe❼❋oodiest border✩n 1980 and settled in Saskatoon

  My dad, Ilie Irinici, says he doesn't often tell the entire story of how he escaped communist Romania in 1980, because he's afraid people won't believe him. It's filled with coincidences that seem too wild to be true.

  I grew up listening to him reminisce about the "old country" and share bits and pieces of what happened. But over the holidays last year, he told me the whole story the entire way through, for the first time.

  Romania's border was known as "the bloodiest border in Europe" in the 1980s. People who were desperate for freedom from communism tried to escape, but many didn't make it. They were shot by border guards, beaten to death or drowned in the Danube River while trying to swim across.

  But some made it out safely.

  My dad was one of them.

  My dad grew up in Buzias, Romania, a small town popular among tourists because of healing mineral springs. He wanted to be like them — especially the ones from Italy.

  They spoke a different language, had nice cars, blue jeans and watches, and they were allowed to have long hair.

  "I was just drawn by their disposition," my dad told me during a five-hour conversation. "They were always happy!"

  Ilie as a young boy in Romania. He says he was happy then because he went to school and could play with his dogs. But, as he got older, he began to feel the effects of communism on his everyday life. (Angelina King/CBC) As he got older, my dad realized he was living under a dictatorship. He tells me everything was controlled; from access to information, to the power that was cut off in the evenings. Residents couldn't leave Romania or even travel freely within the country.

  "If you try to find out about the West, you get in trouble," he said.

  When he was a teen, he saw a Trans Am with a New York license plate. He joked to his friend that he wanted to puncture a tire and breathe in the "fresh freedom air from New York."

  "I started to hate where I lived," he said. "When you hate something. You have two choices: hate and live with the hate or do something about it. So I chose to do something about it."

  When my dad was 16, he saw a map of Europe in school and realized the countries the tourists were from weren't that far from Romania. He took it home, hid it under his bed and studied it every day with dreams of escaping to Italy. He swam laps in the town's pool every day and planned to swim across the Danube to Yugoslavia, at a point that was approximately one kilometre wide.

  He tried to escape three times before making it safely. He recalled each attempt to me in such great detail.

  Ilie's original birth certificate from Romania. He wrapped it in plastic and kept it under his clothing while he crossed the border. (Angelina King/CBC) His first try in 1977 failed the moment he tried to cross the Danube. The dinghy he and his friend got on the black market didn't inflate because mice had chewed holes through it. His friend wasn't a strong swimmer, so they had to turn back.

  His second attempt was a close call; he was in a different border town and was questioned by police about why he was there. He lied, said he was buying shoes and returned home.

  He tried a third time, in yet another area, and ended up getting caught. One of his friends hit a trip wire, setting off flares that lit up the sky "like the fourth of July." It was chaos – guards blowing whistles, patrol dogs barking, and his friends were screaming and running in different directions.

  Ilie poses at a restaurant in Rome before his meeting with the Canadian embassy. (Angelina King/CBC) "I heard some shots in the air from the machine guns, from the border patrols. It was a disaster," he recalls.

  My dad hid in rice paddies on his stomach, but he was discovered by a soldier.

  "He pulled the gun. He says, 'You make a move, you're dead.' And I said to him, 'Don't shoot me!"

  He got hit by a bullet ricochet. He doesn't know where the shot came from, but it landed him in a military hospital for a few months. My dad and his friends were caught and my dad spent nearly a year in a labour camp.

  In the spring of 1980, he tried to escape again with five others in tow.

  He remembers walking for hours and the night sky being too bright to cross the border so they had to hide in a marsh all day before it got dark again.

  After navigating trip wires, border patrol and my dad's friend urinating on a gate to stop it from squeaking, the group made it across the border safely to Yugoslavia.

  They split up, but my dad eventually got caught and was sent to jail for crossing the border without a passport.

  Ilie (on the left) and Avram (on the right) pose with their friend in their early days of living in Saskatoon. (Supplied/Ilie Irinici) When he got to his jail cell his five buddies who he escaped with were already there. Plus, three other Romanian migrants, including Avram Trifa.

  "The treatment was awful," Avram told me.

  Both he and my dad recall the terrible food they were served and how all nine of them were forced to share the same bucket as a toilet.

  They passed the time by talking about their future — Avram's dream was to go to Australia and my dad's sights were set on Italy.

  After about a month in two jails, my dad and two of his friends were eventually released near the Italian border. In the distance, they could see the Adriatic sea and a sign marking the Italian port city of Triest.

  He had made it.

  He kissed the asphalt and said the feeling was "indescribable happiness."

  "We were just like, born again and in heaven. From now on, it's up to us — how to create our path in life, not up to the government. I was 21 years old," he said.

  After living in a refugee camp in Latina, Italy for six months, he decided on a whim to immigrate to Canada. He arrived in Saskatoon on Nov. 5, 1980.

  "There was a small airport and it was so cold I froze," he said. "I was not excited at all. I was lost."

  Ilie (wearing white) makes a 'V' with his hand as a sign for victory while showing off the Trans Am he bought himself in Saskatoon. After seeing one in Romania years before, he says this car was the symbol of freedom. H (Supplied/Ilie Irinici) But, he started to build a life for himself. The next year, he bought himself his very own Trans Am —  just like he saw in Timișoara.

  "[The Trans Am] means to me I was free," he told me.

  As far as my dad knew, he was the first Romanian to arrive in Saskatoon. But about six months later, others joined him. A friend invited him to go meet a new Romanian who had just come from Australia.

  "I couldn't believe it," he said.

  It was Avram.

  Avram says he didn't recognize my dad at first.

  "I never thought you're going to see someone somewhere and end up in the same place, after all," he said. "Everything has got a reason."

  Avram did make it to Australia where he met a Chinese woman named Janet, who was from Saskatchewan. They fell in love and shortly after, Avram moved to Saskatoon to be with Janet.

  Janet and Avram lived in a basement suite and Janet's younger sister Robbie lived upstairs. That's how my dad met Robbie, my mom.

  She remembers my dad being engaging and smart.

  "We would have conversations about every topic under the sun," she said.

  My dad thought my mom was kind and genuine.

  "I fell in love," he said.

  Robbie and Ilie Irinici met in Saskatoon and have been married for more than 35 years. (Angelina King/CBC) Now, I'm here.

  They married and four years later, they had me. Robbie's sister Janet became my aunt, and Avram is my uncle. Now my two brothers and I have two cousins like us — who are Chinese-Romanian.

  My dad now considers Saskatoon home, but he's always remained proud and connected to his culture.

  Janet and Avram Trifa in their backyard in Saskatoon. (Angelina King/CBC) It's incredible to think that in order for me and my two brothers to be here, so much had to happen.

  It makes the world seem so big and so small all at the same time.

  "I don't think it's a coincidence," my dad said. "You guys had to be born."

  Angelina King is a reporter with CBC Toronto where she covers a wide range of topics. She has a particular interest in crime, justice issues and human interest stories. Angelina started her career in her home city of Saskatoon where she spent much of her time covering the courts. You can contact her at or @angelinaaking

  This documentary was produced with Alison Cook and Suzanne Dufresne, and made through the Doc Mentorship Program

ladies pads manufacturers plastic plate making machine:Escaping Romania: how my dad survived crossing Europe❼❋oodiest border✩n 1980 and settled in Saskatoon