Sask. preparing for charter flight to bring fleeing Ukrainians to Regina

The Saskatchewan government is preparing for a charter flight from the Polish capital of Warsaw to Regina to bring some 230 evacuees from Ukraine to the province.

Minister of Immigration and Career Training Jeremy Harrison said there is flexibility around the arrival but the target date is July 4.

“We’ve made very clear our open door policy as far as resettling an unlimited number of Ukrainians seeking to relocate to Canada,” he said.

“There have been about 600 arrivals in Saskatchewan from Ukraine since February 24 through different means.”

The government said that estimated number is based on several sources including the federal immigration department, Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Canadian Red Cross.

Sask. Minister of Immigration Jeremy Harrison says the government has been flexible when it comes to changing rules and expediting the issuance of health cards and driver’s licences for those coming from Ukraine. (Matt Duguid/CBC)

Harrison said there were frustrations with the government of Canada as the initial plan was to have Saskatchewan as one of the destinations for the three federal evacuation flights that arrived from Ukraine in late May.

“That flight was redirected by the federal government away from Saskatchewan after we had been told it was going to be arriving here,” he said.

“We were quite frustrated by that, particularly considering that a number of the folks who landed in places like Montreal have since relocated to Saskatchewan at their own expense after landing in those locations.”

He said this propelled the government “to engage bilaterally with Ukraine” to ensure a charter flight to Saskatchewan.

The government will co-ordinate with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, settlement organizations and other community partners to fill up the flight. 

Resettlement services available

Harrison said the government has changed certain rules so they are devoid of “red tape and bureaucracy” to expedite the issuance of health cards and driver’s licences. 

Any newcomer with a valid Ukrainian driver’s licence can transfer it “straight up” for a Saskatchewan licence.

“We’ve set up a 24/7 helpline for newly arrived Ukrainian refugees. We’re engaging with our business community to make sure that those who wish to enter the labour market immediately are able to do so.”

Supports like helping set up bank accounts for newcomers will be arranged at the Regina International Airport.

Though the government is still working on logistical details, Harrison said transportation to other communities like Saskatoon will be provided.

Free hotel accommodations and medium-term housing solutions, easier access to income support and other employment opportunities will also be provided.

“We want to ensure it’s a seamless and straightforward process as these folks have suffered really overwhelming circumstances both in Ukraine and then coming halfway around the world.”

Harrison said the government is well-prepared to assist in the transition period for newcomers including financial supports and that they are working on plans to support people arriving with pets. 

He said hundreds of Ukrainians who arrived earlier in the year are already working in the province. 

“That’s what we want them to be, safe and successful here,” he said. “Ultimately, if they choose Saskatchewan as their permanent home, we would welcome that as a positive thing.”

More support underway

In March, the Saskatchewan Party government had set aside $335,000 in settlement support for Ukrainian families who fled their country.

That initial funding was directed to Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) Saskatchewan to recruit three resettlement co-ordinators in Saskatoon and two in Regina.

Danylo Puderak, executive director at UCC Saskatchewan, said they were involved in pre-planning for the charter flight with the government.

Danylo Puderak, executive director at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress of Saskatchewan, says there has been an outpouring of support from the community. (Submitted by Danylo Puderak)

He said co-ordination efforts with resettlement organizations are underway so that the newcomers have access to language classes and mental health services.

“Arriving Ukrainians will have full access to all provincially funded programs,” Puderak said.

UCC will be assisting the upcoming passengers with supports like interpretation when they undergo processes like medical screenings at the airport. Puderak said they will connect the newcomers to the clergy and others in the community who can help with settlement.

Puderak said they have served more than 200 clients between the two cities so far.

“Each client would represent an individual or a family. Over 200 would represent close to 500 actual individuals. Ukrainians are settling in communities right across the province big and small.”

Talking about the outpouring support from the community, Puderak said there have been hundreds of families coming forward to offer their homes to the newcomers. They are working on screening and vetting such families.

He said the number of newcomers was “initially a trickle” but in the past months it has grown due to Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel.

Under that stream, between March 17 and June 8, Canada received 296,163 applications and has so far approved 131,763 Ukrainian applicants.

“Those early applications that were approved are now starting to come,” he said.

“We are prepared to help. We’re working day and night to help people who are fleeing war zones to help them find refuge here.”

Puderak said newcomers should consider Saskatchewan as their residence as besides sufficient support, it’s an affordable place to stay. 

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