When the Kovalenko family arrived in Calgary on May 13 from Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine, they didn’t have a place to stay.
The family of five ended up at the Inn from the Cold emergency shelter for eight days.
“The decision to leave Ukraine didn’t come easy,” Yuri Kovalenko, who is a veterinarian, said through an interpreter on Thursday. “It was very hard — basically a split-second decision to take all the bags and to lock up the apartment and to leave.
“It was very hard to be in a new place with kids, and we felt very anxious.”
With the help of volunteers at St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor and at Hillhurst United Church, the Kovalenkos were matched with a volunteer host in northwest Calgary.
“She hosts us as we were her own,” Yuri said “We feel very comfortable and safe.”
His wife Iullia said their main priority now is to find a place of their own, jobs and a school for the children.
“We are very grateful to the Canadians who are helping Ukrainians at this difficult moment, and we are grateful the government has provided so much help,” she said.
But with more Ukrainians expected to arrive in Alberta over the next two months, settlement agencies and volunteers in the Ukrainian community are worried there may not be enough places for them to stay.
“If we cannot step up and help Ukrainian evacuees coming to Calgary, we are going to have a humanitarian crisis,” said Yulia Gorbach, a volunteer with St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor, which is helping find host families.
She said the greatest need for newcomers is temporary housing.
“By far the biggest need right now is temporary housing and income support,” Gorbach said. “The problem with Ukrainian evacuees is that it’s a totally different type of immigrant coming to Canada. They are not government-sponsored refugees.”
Gorbach chairs two committees: the Ukrainian Humanitarian Aid Committee at St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor and another with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
She said between St. Vladimir‘s and other settlement organizations, almost 300 families have been placed with volunteer hosts in Calgary.
At the moment, the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS) and the Centre for Newcomers (CFN) are leading the way in assisting with the immediate housing needs.
Staff at the CFN said they have seen an over 200 per cent increase in the number of clients year over year.
“What I’m hearing from a number of settlement organizations is that people are at a breaking point right now,” said Kelly Ernst, vice-president for vulnerable populations at the CFN.
“My greatest fear is that a homeless situation is going to start in the city of Calgary with the Ukrainian arrivals if we can’t find them housing.”
The Ukrainian Humanitarian Aid Committee at St Vladimir’s is pleading with people in southern Alberta to host Ukrainians escaping the war and for governments of all levels to provide more temporary income support.
The federal government provides adults with a $3,000, one-time payment and children with $1,500.
The CCIS and CFN are working with newcomers to clarify their itineraries and needs so they can receive needed arrival support upon landing.
“We also have people contacting us who arrived and paid for their hotel for a night or two and have no housing option after that,” said Inna Platonova, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress’ Calgary branch.
“We connect them with either CCIS or CFN. There is a growing number of arrivals where people have not registered with any agencies and are in need of housing upon landing. Arrivals happen throughout the day and late at night, as some come on international flights. Others connect to Calgary via domestic flights. We also see people who came on charter flights moving to Calgary and in urgent need of housing.
“We also voiced the needs and concerns very early on to the premier’s southern Alberta office as it was predictable that having Ukrainian nationals fleeing war yet not having a legal status of refugees in Canada, and thus no government-assisted housing and other critical supports will be detrimental to their successful settlement.”