Where is Ottawa’s help for Ukrainians, support groups ask?

OTTAWA—In the week since Valerii and Olena Zolotukhin arrived in Kelowna, BC, the couple has moved into a new apartment, started looking for a used car and is thinking of launching a food-processing business that would employ Ukrainian newcomers as they.

Much of the help they have received so far has come from Canadians who have joined families like theirs, giving fleeing Ukrainians a place to sleep, providing transportation and offering free immigration advice.

But while they are extremely appreciative of the support, Valerii and Olena’s arrival in Canada has not been easy.

They landed in Montreal in late March, passing through New Brunswick and Alberta before settling in Kelowna, where they hope to live permanently. That meant that even without a job, the couple was forced to pay out of pocket for hotel rooms, car rentals and flights when necessary.

“Without money, I can’t imagine,” Olena told the Star. “For people who are going to go to Canada without any financial support, it will be very difficult.”

Two weeks ago, as the couple traveled across the country, the federal government announced three new measures for Ukrainians fleeing war with Russia: providing targeted charter flights to Canada, six weeks of income support at $500 a week and hotel accommodation. up to two weeks.

But none of those federal measures are in place, something community groups say is unacceptable given that more than 56,000 applications have been greenlit through Canada’s main thoroughfare to bring displaced Ukrainians into the country.

Those applications are among 164,000 filed under the Canada-Ukraine Emergency Travel Authorization, which is not a refugee flow but a temporary pathway to quickly bring in Ukrainians, allowing them to stay for up to three years.

“They’re just spinning their wheels,” said John Shalewa, president of the Edmonton branch of Ukrainian Canadian Social Services, a member organization of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. “They are talking to talk, but they are not putting things in their place.”

While Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada was unable to say how many people came to the country through the program, the number of applications, coupled with Canada’s commitment to accept an “unlimited” number of Ukrainians, means that groups supporting newcomers will soon have to compete. with a swell of arrivals.

Denys Storozhuk runs Kelowna Stands With Ukraine, an organization formed at the beginning of the invasion to send military and medical supplies to Ukraine. The group is now shifting its focus to helping displaced Ukrainians arriving in BC’s Okanagan region, helping them find places to stay, driving them to job interviews, and providing bank accounts, mobile phones and provincial services.

The organization has helped some 15 families so far, including the Zolotukhins, relying on 40 volunteers to carry out the work. Through a Facebook group that Storozhuk created to connect Ukrainians with resources and opportunities, he estimates that more than 3,000 newcomers could be interested in making Kelowna and the surrounding area their home.

“It’s a huge number that we won’t be able to handle, and we don’t have any financial or volunteer resources for them. So obviously we need support,” said Storozhuk, who is now working to ensure he has enough aid, donations and job opportunities to handle a surge of new arrivals.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s office told the Star that the government is still working out the details of the promised temporary supports, saying “more information about eligibility and access to the program will be available soon.”

But even a little more clarity would be better than no information, Shalewa said.

He said there is confusion over where the promised charter flights would depart and whether Ukrainians would have to shell out cash to board them.

“Are they expecting the people there to pay for them? Because if that’s the case, no one comes,” she said.

What’s more, both Shalewa and Storozhuk said it’s unclear whether the $500 a week in temporary income support is per person or per family, information that would significantly help people plan their first weeks in Canada and reduce pressure on groups. community.

At a news conference last week, Fraser pointed to several steps Ottawa has taken so far, such as providing work and study permits and increasing access to settlement supports. (Since Ukrainians entering Canada are now not officially considered refugees, they do not qualify for the same level of assistance.) The provinces have taken on other responsibilities, such as providing medical care and enrolling children in school.

From the beginning of the year to mid-April, just under 20,000 people arrived in Canada from Ukraine. The number includes both returning Ukrainian citizens and Canadian permanent residents of Ukrainian origin, and does not specify how many people arrived as a direct result of the Russian invasion that began on February 24.

Shalewa said he gets calls he can’t answer about when people will arrive, leading him to wonder how countries like Poland, which has welcomed more than two million Ukrainians, quickly welcomed so many new arrivals.

“They’re running it, so why couldn’t we run it here?” he said.


Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter who covers federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel


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