Three Ukrainian children who escaped the war and moved to Edmonton are now stuck in Mexico.
Their legal guardian was surprised to learn the kids could not get back into Canada and is begging the government for help.
“Now everything is broken again,” Olga Ostapiv said. She adopted the kids to help them escape war-torn Ukraine.
Ostapiv says she wanted to help them forget about the war and decided to take them on a vacation she had pre-booked before Russia invaded Ukraine.
However, when it came time to head back to the airport, she learned the kids could not fly back to Canada.
Ostapiv is a Canadian citizen, but her three adopted children, Anastasia, Yulia and Maksim, are not.
They hold a CUAET (Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel), which grants them one-time entry into the country. It is not considered a refugee program.
Ostapiv accepts all responsibility and says it’s her mistake, but says because her English isn’t great, she asked immigration officers if the kids could travel with those documents and was told yes.
“When I’m doing (a) mistake and it only hurts me, it is OK, but when by mistake (makes the kids suffer), and they’re looking at me and (saying), ‘Don’t leave us! We need to (come back to Canada),'” she said.
“They are such good, nice kids.”
The three children have been trapped in Mexico for two months now, hotel hopping on a weekly basis and unable to return to Edmonton.
“It’s very hard to find space and to move out,” Ostapiv said. “Please, if it’s possible, just help me to bring them back home.”
She explains the kids started school in September and are part of several extracurriculars and clubs and are devastated by the situation.
Ostapiv has reapplied for CUAET status and she and Mike Thomas, a Ukraine relief organizer, sent emails to the Canadian immigration office as well as the ministry but has not heard back.
“They specifically asked if they could take them to Mexico but were not warned that their entry document was one time only,” Thomas explained in an email to the federal government.
“We need emergency issuance of new travel documents for these kids so they can return to Edmonton before this Canadian family goes bankrupt.”
He tells Global News that he’s tried to contact other members of parliament as well but has not received a response.
His concern is waiting another six to eight months for a new visa to be issued.
In a statement, Minister Rajan Sawney’s office says it is a serious issue but a federal one.
“We’re hopeful the federal government can expedite their visa extension approval process to assist Ukraine evacuees, especially children,” a statement from her read.
Global News reached out numerous times to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, but received a generic response.
The department would not comment on whether it would or could help Ostapiv and the three children.
Instead, it explained what a CUAET is.
“The CUAET is a temporary program leveraging our existing temporary resident visa processes, networks and infrastructure to bring as many Ukrainians as we can to Canada as quickly as possible,” the office said.
“The time it takes to process an application varies according to a number of factors and more complex applications may take longer. We continue to process applications as quickly as possible.”
Global News asked for more clarification but did not receive a response.