Ukrainians begin to settle in Canada as Russia’s war continues: ‘More comfortable here’

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Over a month after Russia launched its first missiles at Ukraine on Feb. 24, 40-year-old Olha Rudenko and her two children have begun to ease into their new life in Canada after fleeing from the western city of Lutsk.

While Rudenko and her sons, Lukian, nine, and Stanislav, 16, spent a month in Poland arranging their trip to Ottawa, her sister, Natalia Stepaniuk, was back in Ottawa preparing for her family to arrive.

“There has to be recognition that these are not regular immigrants,” Stepaniuk, 36, told Global News. “These are people that are coming from the war zone that are traumatized.”

The Rudenkos arrived over the last weekend of March after a stranger from Montreal bought them plane tickets. Stepaniuk, who moved to Canada ten years ago, met the stranger on a Facebook group dedicated to helping Ukrainians during the war.

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“I’m happy that my sister is safe in Ottawa with her kids,” Stepaniuk said. “I also feel very sad that they had to come under these circumstances. There’s a lot of pain and a lot of anxiety as well.”

Now that the family has reunited, the first priority will be to arrange school for Lukian and Stanislav as Rudenko tries to find work.

“I don’t want my sister to feed us and I want to work,” she said.

“I feel more comfortable here,” she added.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver Island resort owners renovating aging property to house Ukrainian refugees'
Vancouver Island resort owners renovating aging property to house Ukrainian refugees

While Rudenko and her children start their new journey in Canada, her husband has stayed in Ukraine to join the civilian task force.

“He said that it would be easier for him if we are safe,” she told Global News through tears. “I did this trip for my kids. It’s so painful.”

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On Vancouver Island, Brian and Sharon Holowaychuks are also preparing to help Ukrainians who are coming to Canada by converting their 15,000-square-foot resort property into a refugee home.

Called the Ukrainian Safe Haven, the couple has completed remodeling with the help of volunteers to host refugees who should be arriving in April.

“My personal goal is 100 people,” Brian said. “We’ve got 19 people booked to be coming in about two to three weeks.”

Brian hopes the Ukrainian Safe Haven can be a place to rest and feel safe for the refugees, who he said can stay as long as they need to.

So far, the local community has shown a flood of support for the project, with volunteers and supporters coming in to help or donate, Brian said. Stewart Johnston, a Victoria-based lawyer, decided he wanted to help out by registering the project as a non-profit at no cost.

“This is an extremely important cause and I’m really impressed with what they’re doing to help,” Johnston said. “I wanted to help out.”

The Holowaychuks bought the resort in East Sooke, known as the Grouse Nest, last year. It sits on a 33-hectare property surrounded by trees, wildlife and overlooking the ocean waterfront.

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“We’re in a position, in a place, in a time where we could help make a bit of a difference. And I thought, you know, it’s time to stand up and be counted,” Brian said.

Click to play video: 'Couple sponsors Ukrainian refugee family to relocate to Belleville, Ont.'
Couple sponsors Ukrainian refugee family to relocate to Belleville, Ont.

On Saturday, the Canadian government announced $100 million in additional humanitarian support to respond to the worsening humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and neighbouring countries.

With Saturday’s announcement, Canada has provided $245 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. Of that, $145 million has been allocated to United Nations organizations, the Red Cross Movement, and to non-governmental organizations.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told reporters Saturday that Canada has already approved more than 30,000 applications under the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel program.

In Belleville, Ont., residents Mark and Trish Hall don’t know exactly when the Kupyniak family will arrive, but the couple is preparing for the day.

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Natalia and Yurii Kupyniak have three children aged 14, six, and 10 months old.

“They are currently residing on the very edge of Poland. They’re staying at a farm, it’s a one-bedroom. It’s nothing like we would ever know,” said Trish Hall, noting the couple connected with the Kupyniaks through a website designed to connect refugees with hosts.

The Halls, along with others in the community, have banded together to rent a full apartment for the family for the next year.

Local businesses are also helping the family out. Mama Duck’s Diaper Service will be providing free diapers for their 10-month-old and Yurii Kupyniak will have a job waiting for him when he arrives as well.

GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help the Kupyniaks after they’re settled in Belleville, while other donations will be dropped off at the Albert College parking lot, where a trailer will be set up to accept contributions from the community.

Click to play video: 'International donors pledge 9.1B euros to support Ukrainian refugees'
International donors pledge 9.1B euros to support Ukrainian refugees

Ukrainians arriving in Canada will be eligible for two weeks of temporary hotel accommodation and up to six weeks of income support, the Liberals have assured.

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Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said his department is working with Canadian airlines to organize charter flights, but details haven’t been finalized. Many of the affected Ukrainians are spread over a wide area and some aren’t ready to leave just yet.

“No one should be forced to flee their homes and we are committed to helping Ukrainians who have had to leave their country because of this illegal war,” Alghabra said.

“As Canadians, we will do what we do best. We will stand up for Ukrainians and warmly welcome them as they adjust to new life here in their new country.”

With files from Global News’ Alaina Saint Amour, John Lawless and The Canadian Press

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