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Calgary groups prepare for an influx of Ukrainian refugees

Two Calgary organizations are teaming up to assist as many as 60 families willing to take in Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.

The Calgary Catholic Immigration Services and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Calgary Branch, expect between 10 and 15 new refugees next week, and 350 in southern Alberta over the next few months.

They’re fleeing the ongoing Russian invasion that began Feb. 24. Increasingly, evidence has shown the Russian military is targeting civilians.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), 2,213 civilians have been killed as of April 5, 2022.

Ukrainians were granted emergency measures by the federal government which include urgent processing time for applications.

Alberta has support for Ukrainians that arrive in the province, which includes access to healthcare, how to get a job, and potential financial support.

Seeing war from afar

Ukrainians living in Calgary have witnessed the atrocities happening in their own country.

“I don’t know what we did and how we deserved it,” said Khrystyna Zagirska, board member of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), Calgary Branch.

Zagirska moved to Calgary from Ukraine five years ago. She was supposed to be in Ukraine on Feb. 25.

“When I talked to my family in Ukraine, they had sirens go off four times,” Zagirska said.

“My little cousin [asks] me, ‘I don’t know why this mean guy wants to kills us all.’”

Zagirska was in England when Russia invaded Ukraine. She was travelling to Europe and had planned to visit her family.

Since the war’s start, Zagirska has focused her efforts on the UCC and helping Ukrainians on their way to Calgary.

“In the beginning, I felt guilty not being in Ukraine and not doing everything there. But I understand that, from here, I have more power to help them,” she said.

The UCC has created a number of resources online, like Facebook groups, for people to provide support, or for newcomers to receive support.

“It’s very busy because we have to be on the phone or computer all day monitoring everything,” Zagirska said.

“It’s pretty much 24/7.”

Support for all Ukrainians

The UCC has been working with the Calgary Catholic Immigration Services (CCIS) to arrange accommodation for Ukrainian refugees.

“We are helping with everything we can,” Zagirska said.

The CCIS has been helping immigrants and refugees that arrive in Calgary and Southern Alberta for more than 40 years.

“We have a plan to help integrate all incoming Ukrainians that decided to come to Calgary or go to Southern Alberta,” said Fariborz Birjandian, CEO of the CCIS.

There are Ukrainians that have the support of friends and family that are living in the province.

Not all Ukrainians coming to Calgary have the support of family.

“We are planning to help them by providing them with accommodation and support, initially, until they can keep going.”

Sixty families have volunteered to house Ukrainians in Calgary through a request from the UCC.

“We have been talking to them, training them, and are having them prepare to receive families,” Birjandian said.

“They are wonderful. And this work is done hand-in-hand with the UCC.”

There is an online portal where Calgarians can make donations to help incoming Ukrainian refugees.