Ukrainians find support in Calgary, but more needs to be done, say volunteers

Hundreds of Ukrainians evacuated from their home country are trying to make a life in Calgary

Members of Calgary's Ukrainian, Russian, Bulgarian, and Azerbaijani communities gathered at St. Vladimir's Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor to call for continued support by all levels of government for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people on Saturday, June 4, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Homes and jobs.

These are the things that Calgary’s Ukrainian community is asking for.

Volunteers with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress’s evacuee committee held a Children’s Day fundraiser and get-together on Saturday.

The June 4 event connected evacuated children from the beleaguered nation with children from Calgary. They also raised money to help evacuees meet their basic needs.

“We just wanted to bring families together so they will meet each other, they can support each other, as well as the Calgary community coming and seeing us here to help those families,” said Yuliya Gorbach, co-chair for the evacuee committee.

Throughout the afternoon, evacuees made their way to St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor to collect and connect.

A young girl holds up a sign asking Canadians to save Ukraine and the Ukrainian people on Saturday, June 4, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Evacuees had a chance to connect with each other, other Calgarians, and a wide variety of social agencies offering help in the city.

They also had a chance to acquire brand new clean pillows, bedding, and toiletries, along with gently used clothing and household items.

The UCC, along with interfaith groups across the province, have been collecting to help Ukrainians as they find their feet in Canada.

A list of items requested by the UCC to support current needs for evacuees is listed on the committee’s page on the St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor website.

So far, the UCC has helped more than 400 families, and 900 individuals, but they say they’re likely only reaching half of those in need.

Evacuees, not refugees

Members of Calgary’s Ukrainian, Russian, Bulgarian, and Azerbaijani communities gathered at St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor to call for continued support by all levels of government for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people on Saturday, June 4, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Among the challenges that evacuees face is that they are not classified as refugees. Thus, they receive very few formal supports in comparison.

“It’s not your government-sponsored refugee that has time to learn English and has a clear path laid out in front of them,” said Gorbach.

“They come in and they don’t have any idea of where they can sleep, or what they’re going to eat, and how everything works here in Calgary and in Canada.”

The federal government announced on June 2 that they would be providing financial support for Ukrainians. The benefit consists of a one-time $3,000 payment per adult, and $1,500 per child, made directly to Ukrainians landing in Canada.

“This one-time financial assistance will be crucial in addressing the immediate challenges faced by Ukrainians who have left so much behind to find a safe haven in Canada,” said Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser.

Funding not reaching agencies

The Government of Alberta previously announced $1.2 million for settlement services and $1 million for Community Adult Learning.

Despite promises to provide that money, some agencies have yet to receive it.

Jon Yee, vice-president of strategy for the Centre for Newcomers said they’ve had to dip into their own operating funds while awaiting that Alberta Government promise.

“Resources are very hard to come by right now,” he said.

“The governments on multiple levels promise funding for services for housing and stuff like that. We’re not getting access to that yet,” he said.

The Centre for Newcomers is on a list of organizations the Alberta Government said they were funding for settlement services. This includes other organizations such as the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, Catholic Social Services, Edmonton Immigrant Services Association, and the YMCA of Northern Alberta.

“So we’re struggling both financially and with staff resources,” said Yee.

“Our staff is getting burned out. We’re working seven days a week on this because there are no resources to hire new people.”

Currently, the Centre for Newcomers is also assisting Afghani refugees and Syrian Refugees.

Jobs, not handouts, wanted

Members of Calgary’s Ukrainian, Russian, Bulgarian, and Azerbaijani communities wave to cars along 4 Avenue SE as they marched to call for continued support by all levels of government for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people on Saturday, June 4, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Gorbach said there’s a critical five- to six-week period when Ukrainians come to Calgary in which they require social assistance before moving into more permanent arrangements

Among the ways that the UCC is working to facilitate this is by providing volunteer-led English classes, helping Ukrainians find local jobs, and providing temporary housing.

“We’re trying to bridge this gap between when they arrive here in Calgary, and the time they find a place to work,” said Gorbach.

“First and foremost we need to address the highest needs. First of all, it’s housing, and we’re asking volunteer hosts to open up their homes with temporary housing until people can find jobs.”

Gorbach said they are asking local businesses to consider hiring people who don’t have strong or absent English language skills.

“They are really hard working really honest people, and they are they’re running from hell—they are lost,” she said.

“They don’t want to be a burden to society, they don’t want to be sitting on help from the government, they just want jobs.”

Gorbach said that she was personally able to locate housing for a family that was staying at Inn From the Cold. The parents in that family were able to learn English and obtain full-time employment.

“We are just asking Calgarians to help us out for that,” she said.

On Saturday, June 11, the UCC along with partner agencies will be holding a job fair at St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor. Volunteers are asking local businesses to join with those already signed up for the event to help the evacuees, and themselves, with high-quality workers.

Mount Royal University to provide housing over the summer

Members of Calgary’s Ukrainian, Russian, Bulgarian, and Azerbaijani communities gathered at Olympic Plaza to call for continued support by all levels of government for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people on Saturday, June 4, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Now that their regular classes are done for the year, Mount Royal University is helping by temporarily opening up their dorms.

Gorbach said that MRU has agreed to provide 20 dorm rooms for evacuees over the summer, booked through the Centre for Newcomers.

“We have some small families or single men or women coming in. It’s a very appropriate situation for them, and it’s a really good solution,” she said.

“We’re going to be starting with these 20 rooms, and we’re going to set it up starting next week.”

She said that MRU’s central location close to outreach and government support makes it easier to provide these transitional services on a temporary basis.

The plan is to move families and individuals into permanent housing after several weeks.

The funding for the dorm room rentals is being provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

March held to keep attention on the war

Members of the Ukrainian, Russian, Bulgarian, and Azerbaijani communities held a march on Saturday night from St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor to Stephen Avenue.

The rally was held to remind Calgarians, and the wider world, that more must be done to support Ukraine against the Russian invasion.

Among the speakers calling for the end of Russian aggression was a Russian woman, who, if identified, wouldn’t be able to return safely to her country.

A common sentiment was for Western nations to continue to arm Ukraine in its fight.

The UCC wrote on social media on Saturday that “we also call for continued government support of the Ukrainian military – the only kind of resistance against Russia’s genocidal war that will save not only the Ukrainian people, but the world.”

Minster of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly said on June 3, the 100th day of the war, that too many innocent Ukrainians have suffered and needlessly perished.

“We continue to work with the international community to do everything we can to end the Russian regime’s aggression. As the world reacts to the horrific events across Ukraine, Canada will not relent in holding Putin and his enablers accountable and supporting a full investigation of reported war crimes by the International Criminal Court,” she said.

“Canada is unwavering in its support to Ukraine.”

The Canadian government has sanctioned more than 1,050 individuals and legal entities linked to Vladimir Putin.

Young girls pose for photos during speeches at Olympic Plaza asking Canadians to support the Ukrainian people on Saturday, June 4, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

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