There’s been a surge of people coming to Calgary, fleeing the war in Ukraine, according to staff at the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS) — the primary organization helping Ukrainians settle in Calgary since March 2022.
Hanna Vakhovska remembers the sound of bombing and feeling her home shake on Feb. 24, 2022 — the day the war started in Ukraine.
She lived in an underground shelter for 10 days not knowing if she would get out alive.
“Every day in the shelter in Mariupol, when the bomb is coming to us, we thought maybe it’s just for two days and it will finish but it continues and continues and I can’t imagine how people are still in Ukraine right now,” said Vakhovksa in Calgary on Saturday.
Vakhovska, her husband and sister have been living in Calgary since October, after enduring a long and sometimes dangerous journey out of Mariupol and finding temporary shelter in three other countries in Europe.
She worries for her parents and teenage siblings back home near Donetsk.
“After a big bombing, they every time told me ‘OK maybe we will apply for a visa for Ukrainians,’ but after a couple of days they say ‘no it’s OK, we stay in our native home,'” Vakhovska said.
“Because they live under war since 2014 — it’s crazy to say — but they get used to living under bombing,”
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In addition to working at the airport with CCIS, Vakhovska volunteered at a clothing donation event for Ukrainian women on Saturday.
“It’s hard. It doesn’t fix the sorrow that they have experienced, but hopefully I believe in the power of community enough that this will be a really positive day for them because they’ve gone through so much,” said Kristen Klok, who partnered with the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society to host the event.
Klok donated designer items and CCIS offered the space where the women and children could have lunch.
In addition to shopping at the event, the women had a chance to socialize with other newcomers and build new friendships.
Staff with CCIS say the need is great for more donated items because nearly 100 people per day are now arriving at the Calgary airport from Ukraine.
Many are concerned about when the Canadian temporary resident program will end, while others are giving up hope that the war will be over soon.
“Many people are still devastated and they have no place to live and they stayed in Europe for a while and they cannot go back home,” said Kateryna Bryzh, a program facilitator with CCIS.
“The war is not near the end, and we still have to remember that so that’s why people are coming — just to search a better life, to settle down somewhere because they cannot be in limbo.
“The need is huge because we have so many people who are coming,” Bryzh said.
Vakhovska’s apartment that she and her husband just bought before the war started is damaged and expected to be demolished this spring.
Still, she remains thankful and often wonders if the trauma she experienced in the past year has been a dream.
“Canada is a nice, safe place for us to start a new life from zero because we lost everything in Ukraine.
“Maybe I died in Mariupol and now everything is amazing. What is happened to me now — it’s like a miracle. Maybe I died and this is my second life.”
The temporary resident visa program expires at the end of March.