More than 300 Ukrainians who arrived in Winnipeg on Monday are now setting off on the complex — if not more streamlined than usual — process of settling in after fleeing their homes amid the ongoing Russian invasion.
Nic Krawetz, a volunteer with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, has spent weeks helping Ukrainian newcomers adjust to life in Manitoba and is preparing for more on the way.
“They have no home to return to, and they will be restarting here,” said Krawetz, who helped co-ordinate the UCC’s warm welcome for the newcomers at the Winnipeg Richardson International Airport on Monday.
“To see them, to see them smiling, to see their children when they come out of the arrivals area and they get presented with a stuffed toy and a welcome gift…. It makes it all worthwhile.”
He says as of Tuesday, over 700 Ukranians have arrived since mid-April, including 328 who arrived via charter flight from Poland on Monday. Krawetz said there is a need for at least three more charter flights to Winnipeg.
He said over 240,000 Ukrainians have applied to come to Canada and thus far 30,000 have arrived across the country.
Krawetz said those already here have three main priorities: housing, jobs and child care.
“A lot of them are very anxious to work because they want to support themselves and their family members back in Ukraine or those that fled,” he said.
“Finding a job is absolutely critical and it’s a lifeline not only for them but for their entire family.”
Ukrainian newcomers are staying at the provincially run Ukrainian Refugee Reception Centre at a hotel near the airport. They have access to a range of settlement resources there including employment, education, counselling, health, housing, language and other services.
That’s in addition to the federal Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program, which comes with a work visa that triggers access to a provincial health card and other services.
The federal government also announced a temporary income assistance program on Monday. As of next week, each Ukrainian newcomer adult to come to Canada through CUAET will be eligible to apply for $3,000 and $1,500 per child.
Experts who work with refugees say the concerted push to bring Ukrainian newcomers to Canada and provide them with immediate access to so many supports is unusual and shows promise as a model for future refugee crises.
“Our sector feels a little bit more confident, too, in how we can provide those other additional supports now that the basic income is at least taken care of,” said Emily Halldorson, Ukraine response co-ordinator at the Manitoba Association of Newcomer Serving Organizations.
Halldorson said despite all the government support, volunteers are still needed to help with translation and other duties including transportation and helping people get to appointments.
Another need is funding and food donations for furry friends newcomers brought with them.
“It’s much the same that we see in natural disasters intervention in Canada: people do not want to leave their pets and they will not leave their pets,” Nicole Frey, founder of Animal Food Bank in Winnipeg, told CBC Up to Speed guest host Stephanie Cram on Tuesday.
Frey said about 30 cats, 10 dogs and a hamster arrived along with their owners on Monday. Tuesday involved buying and dropping off a hamster cage and cat scratch posts at the reception centre, said Frey.
Right now volunteers are trying to get newcomers up to speed on municipal spay and neuter bylaws, licensing and other rules.
Animal Food Bank is volunteer-run and doesn’t receive government funding, said Frey. The organization accepts pet food and financial donations through its website.
Krawetz said there’s still more work to be done to prepare for the next wave of Ukrainian newcomers.
He said those who arrived Monday were overwhelmed and grateful when they got off the plane.
“They know that they’re safe, they know that they can begin again here,” he said. “Lots of tears from people, lots of smiles and our goal was to really put them at ease and comfort and get them processed quickly.”
It was also personally touching for Krawetz, whose family has been directly impacted by the war.
“It was very humbling and heart-warming because Manitoba right now is leading the country, I would say, in supporting newcomers from Ukraine,” he said. “It really was a proud moment as a Manitoban but also as a Ukrainian-Canadian.”