Ukrainian newcomers prepare for first Christmas in Calgary

Click to play video: 'Ukrainian newcomers prepare for first Christmas in Calgary'
Ukrainian newcomers prepare for first Christmas in Calgary
WATCH: Thousands of Ukrainians who have fled the war in their country are now preparing for their first Christmas in Calgary. As Tracy Nagai reports, despite the ongoing uncertainty, some are embracing the holiday spirit while celebrating traditions of their own – Dec 14, 2022

Thousands of people who fled the war in Ukraine are preparing to spend their first Christmas in Calgary, and there could be some marked differences depending on what traditions they celebrate.

27-year-old Kateryna Zarvii arrived in Calgary about six months ago after making the hard decision to move to Canada and leave her family in Ukraine.

“Christmas is usually a quiet time with your family and you don’t exchange presents,” she said. “Living in central or eastern Ukraine, the main celebration would be the New Year.”

Zarvii, who taught English in Ukraine, started volunteering at a church when she arrived in Calgary. In a short amount of time, she found a job at the Centre for Newcomers (CFN) which helps to provide support for immigrants and refugees of all nationalities.

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“I love the tradition of Christmas,” Zarvii laughed. “Yesterday, I came (to work) in my sportswear and everyone was dressed up, and I couldn’t understand why until somebody told me ‘All of December is Christmas here.'”

In Ukraine, Christmas is celebrated on either Dec. 25 or, for Orthodox Christians, Jan. 7. Zarvii said this year some are looking to further break ties with Russia and celebrate it in December.

“As long as I can remember, we used to celebrate Christmas on the seventh of January,” Zarvii explained. “Inspired by separating from anything Russian… they finally changed it to the 25th of December this year.”

Click to play video: 'Canadian medical team helps Ukraine war victims'
Canadian medical team helps Ukraine war victims

Ukrainian refugee Maryna Stetsiuk, 25, who arrived in Calgary in June said in previous years her family would celebrate Orthodox Christmas or both dates. But last year she only marked the holiday in December.

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“I’m glad my mom is here with me so we can keep those traditions here with us, even if it just the two of us,” Stetsiuk said. “I think the two of us will have family dinner, and maybe invite some friends over and give thanks to God for us being here.

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“There is nothing more important than your family and your life. Everything you have physically can be taken away just like that.”

David Hohol with CFN said so far they’ve helped about 2,000 Ukrainians and their families since the war started, and housing remains a top priority.

“Housing is very important — you need a roof over your head,” Hohol said. “Housing can be host families, it can be people donating a hotel suite or room.”

The organization is also preparing for more newcomers from Ukraine to arrive in our city as winter continues to deepen.

“The attack on the infrastructure in Ukraine has seen an uptick, as people are not just fleeing war but the freezing cold,” he explained. “There’s no lights, there’s no heat, there’s no power for many people right now.”

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Hohol added that while many have been focused on the war in Ukraine, the organization is also seeing an increase in refugees coming from Afghanistan.

“It takes Calgary as a community and all it’s facets to make these incredible transitions from these resilient people possible.”

This year, CFN is welcoming the return of its Holiday Season Potluck on Thursday, where people can enjoy food from different parts of the world and support the organization.

The events runs from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 125, 565 – 36 Street N.E. in Calgary.

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