Organizers seek to meet needs of Ukrainian refugees
Nearly a year after Russia invaded Ukraine, community organizations across Canada have worked tirelessly to create welcoming homes for refugees who lost everything in the war.
Joan Lewandosky is among many Canadians hoping to be the warm welcome so many Ukrainians have sought since the Russian invasion in February 2022.
Lewandosky, president of the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress (UCC) in Manitoba, says her team of volunteers has been working with the provincial government to offer refugees help with sourcing food, clothing, job applications, housing and furniture across the province.
“Manitoba has opened up their hearts, their wallets and their homes; it was a very giving province, but it didn’t stop because we still have a lot of people coming every week,” Lewandosky told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Jan. 16.
As of January 24, 2023, Canada has approved 514,020 applications under the temporary Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program. The program allows Ukrainians fleeing the war to apply for express entry to Canada on visitor visas, allowing them to live, work and study in the country for up to three years.
This includes people like 23-year-old Anastasiia Haiduchenko, who fled the war with her husband in June 2022 after applying through the program and saying goodbye to her family who stayed behind in Kherson.
Haiduchenko says she stayed in Ukraine for the first two months of the Russian invasion, but when her and her husband’s application to come to Canada was approved, they settled in Calgary.
“We packed all our things in a few days. We left home so quickly and it was really stressful at first when we came here,” Haiduchenko told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Wednesday.
Haiduchenko says that they lived with a host family for the first two months, but were able to move into a basement apartment on their own.
In Ukraine she worked as a social media marketer. Now that she has found a home in Canada, she started a blog on Instagram documenting her process in hopes of helping other Ukrainians move to Canada.
“A lot of people came here with nothing, literally nothing, and now that we’ve found a home for ourselves, I’m trying not to take it and I’m trying to give that to the community,” she said.
MENTAL HEALTH AND CHILDCARE REQUIRED
While the federal government has offered assistance to participants in the CUAET program with a one-time payment of $3,000 per adult and $1,500 per child, Lewandosky said there is still a need for help, particularly with psychological counseling and childcare assistance.
Data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), emailed to CTVNews.ca on Jan. 19, indicates that there is a larger group of Ukrainian women than men who are registered through the CUAET program Canada come. An estimated 37,785 men completed the program between February and December 2022, compared to a total of 51,095 women. This includes people of all ages, and an estimated 10 people did not indicate their gender.
Lewandosky says women and children need to be given more support given the many men who stayed behind in Ukraine to support the military. Since the war began, martial law has been imposed to prevent men aged 18 to 60 from leaving Ukraine unless they meet certain criteria, including having more than three children under the age of 18 or raising children alone raise.
“We need more help and daycare because there are many single mothers whose husbands have been left behind and who have come with young children and cannot work if they don’t have daycare,” she said.
The language barrier has been exceptionally difficult for many of the refugees, Lewandosky says, particularly when it comes to psychological counseling, which she says needs more focus for the younger children.
“These children are traumatized, they need psychological care, they need counseling and that’s why we’re trying to find some support systems that have the language skills for the education system because their mental health problems require attention,” she said.
BC Councilman Ahmed Yousef, who chaired Ridge Meadows’ Ukrainian welcome committee, says mental health efforts are especially important as many newcomers find themselves isolated due to the language barrier as they try to fit into their community.
“Something we continue to see is this isolation, that for the most part, they’re still seen as outsiders, so people aren’t as willing to approach, mostly because of the language barrier,” Yousef told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview On Wednesday.
Haiduchenko, whose parents stayed in Ukraine to be with both of their grandmothers, says being separated from her family was the hardest part of immigrating to Canada. Although the Russian military is withdrawing from Kherson, she still worries about her family and the people of Ukraine, especially as people outside Ukraine begin to forget the ongoing war.
“I know it’s almost a year of this war, but please don’t forget everything that happens there because if people forget, my family will never feel safe,” she said. “It still matters and the war is still here.”