On the day the war started in Ukraine, Ann Kucheriava, her husband and three kids were away from their home in Dnipro. They had no idea they’d would not be coming home again.
“We didn’t have stuff. We don’t have clothes because we are just going to the mountains. We think for only one week, but we never come back,” Kucheriava said.
They stayed in the Czech Republic for three months before coming to Calgary in June 2022. They didn’t know anyone.
Shortly after arriving, Kucheriava’s daughter came home with a note from a mom named Tammy who lived in the area who wanted to help.
“She started help for us. She start with everything necessary for a new family here,” Kucheriava said.
Kucheriava and Tammy Brigidear have been friends ever since. Brigidear has found there’s a lot of support you can give even if you are in a position to host a family.
“There still seems to be such a big need, so I will just keep helping until there’s not a need anymore.
“There’s been a few families that have come with absolutely nothing. They are sleeping on the floor,” Brigidear said.
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She’s been able to collect donations and help with documents and driving. Brigidear uses her connections to assist newcomers navigate new surroundings and has helped host gatherings that bring Ukrainians and Canadians together at the Lakeview Community Association.
“Something that seems relatively small on our end will have a massive impact, so they will have a bit of a running chance now of making it,” Brigidear said.
Kucheriava said the support she got from Brigidear and her family and others in Lakeview has been a huge help. Her English has improved so much that she landed a job at a registries office where she helps other new arrivals get their documents.
“I love my work. I am explaining the rules. Many people even don’t understand how to write ‘Calgary’. I feel useful now,” Kucheriava said.
Brigidear and her husband John have helped over 30 families now and they have no plans to stop. She said it’s a lot of work but rewarding.
“This will be life-changing” Brigidear said. “I think it will be a lifelong lesson for my kids to see the ripple effects of being kind and compassionate and I think lifelong friends. That’s the silver lining of it all. I’ve had an opportunity to meet all of these really wonderful people who wouldn’t of crossed my path otherwise,” Brigidear said.
Kucheriava said she worries for her mom back in Dnipro, but knowing her kids are safe and surrounded by support makes all the difference.
“We think about (how) this year changed all of our lives, but we are happy here now with Tammy, my Ukrainian family here,” Kucheriava said.
Between March 17, 2022 and March 2, 2023, over 903,000 applications have been received through the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET), through which Ukrainian nationals and their family members can apply for a temporary resident visa to travel to and stay in Canada temporarily. Nearly 600,000 applications have been approved.