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

OTTAWA — Within a week of Valerii and Olena Zolotukhin’s arrival in Kelowna, B.C., the couple have moved into a new apartment, started looking for a used car and plan to start a remodeling business. food that would employ Ukrainian newcomers like them.

Much of the help they have received so far has come from Canadians who have rallied around families like theirs, providing a place to sleep for fleeing Ukrainians, providing transportation and offering free advice on of immigrants.

But while extremely grateful for the support, Valerii and Olena’s arrival in Canada has not been easy.

They land in Montreal at the end of March, cross New Brunswick and Alberta before settling in Kelowna, where they hope to live permanently. This meant that even without a job, the couple were forced to pay out of pocket for hotel rooms, car hire and flights when needed.

“Without money, I can’t imagine,” Olena told The Star. “For people who are going to go to Canada without any financial assistance, 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 $500 income support per week and hotel accommodation for up to two weeks.

But none of these federal measures are in place and working, which community groups say is unacceptable given that more than 56,000 applications have been approved through Canada’s main route to bring displaced Ukrainians into the country.

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

“They’re just spinning the wheel,” said John Shalewa, president of the Edmonton branch of Ukrainian Canadian Social Services, a member organization of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. “They talk, but they don’t put things in place.”

Although Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada could not say how many people have arrived in the country through the program, these numbers, along with Canada’s commitment to accept an “unlimited” number of Ukrainians, mean that Newcomer support groups may soon face a surge in arrivals.

Denys Storozhuk heads Kelowna Stands with Ukraine, an organization that formed at the start of the invasion to send military and medical supplies to Ukraine. The group is now focused on helping displaced Ukrainians arriving in the Okanagan region of British Columbia, helping them find housing, driving them to job interviews and providing them with bank accounts. , mobile phones and provincial services.

The organization has helped around 15 families so far, including the Zolotukhins, relying on 40 volunteers to do the job. Through a Facebook group Storozhuk set up to connect Ukrainians to resources and opportunities, he estimates more than 3,000 newcomers may 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 the financial resources or volunteers for them. So obviously we need support,” said Storozhuk, who is now working to ensure he has enough help, donations and job opportunities to handle a surge in new arrivals.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s office told The Star that the government was still working out details of the promised temporary supports and said more information on eligibility and access to the program would be “coming soon”.

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

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

“Do they expect the people there to pay for them? Because if it is, no one is coming,” he said.

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

At a news conference last week, Fraser highlighted several steps Ottawa has taken so far, such as granting work and study permits and improving access to settlement (since Ukrainians entering Canada are no longer officially considered refugees, they are not eligible for the same level of assistance). The provinces took on other responsibilities, such as providing health care and schooling children.

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

Shalewa said he was answering calls he couldn’t answer to find out when people would arrive, leading him to wonder how countries like Poland – which has taken in more than two million Ukrainians – have quickly welcomed so many newcomers.

“They’re taking care of it, so why can’t we take care of it here?” ” he said.


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


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