After one year of war, with no signs of peace in their homeland, Ukrainians continue to seek refuge in Canada, and they’re coming to Prince George.
Dick Mynen and his colleagues at Share Hope Refugee Support Society will be at the airport on Thursday to meet a family of four fleeing the conflict that has created misery in their lives.
“This is a family that’s starting their journey in Ukraine and they’re making their way from Poland to catch a flight,” said Mynen, Share Hope’s fundraising/donations chair. “The husband has been cleared from military service and he’s coming right from Ukraine.
“As soon as the paperwork is done, within a week or two they’re here.”
February has already brought one of the biggest influxes of Ukrainian refugees to Prince George, with 26 arriving since the start of the month. Only December (31) and August (30) brought more to the city in a single month.
“In December and January we’ve seen the most family repatriation. We’ve seen a few mothers come, we’ve seen friends of people who are already here come and we’ve seen three sets of parents come. People are bringing the rest of their family here, as many as can come.
“It takes some of the worry away, from worrying about their family overseas, but also that they feel comfortable enough that they want to make this their home and they want to bring more of their family here.”
Share Hope was established in April 2022 about a month after Russian troops crossed into the Ukraine on Feb. 24. The society has provided a lifeline that has helped 167 people get established in Prince George. The group provides housing, furnishings, food, clothing, bedding, toys, healthcare connections, transportation, English lessons and comfort for the dozens of Ukrainians who continue to come to the city each month.
Share Hope will provide free accommodation for up to three months, but in most cases the Ukrainians are staying with host families. The Mennonite Central Committee Centre Legacy management group owns five apartment buildings in Prince George and will fast-track Ukrainians arriving so they can move in on short notice.
Mynen says all of the adults he’s encountered through the society want to work and are prepared to take on the added burden of providing for their families. Some require retraining or testing to bring their job qualifications up to Canadian standards and that prevents them from working at their chosen occupations, but they are willing to take on alternate jobs just to get established. About a dozen, mostly men, are still looking for full-time jobs.
“There really is no social safety net here for them to fall back on so it is a responsibility they’re taking very seriously that they have to find a job and find housing,” said Mynen. “For big families it’s not easy to find cheap apartments, so it’s more a challenge.”
Transportation is also a major hurdle.
“We’ve had a couple Ukrainians buy vehicles off the marketplace and have instantly had problems, so they’ve been burned and they’re gun-shy,” said Mynen. “We have a dozen people on the list, desperate for vehicles to get them to work because for guys in the industrial parks working night shifts, busses are not an option. We also have a family with an eight-year-old buy who needs a wheelchair van. These are things we’re trying to find solutions for now.”
Share Hope chair Eva Gillis has made it her job to find accommodations for displaced Ukrainians and sometimes speaks to them before they leave to let them know what’s waiting for them in Prince George.
“People in Prince George have been amazing, offering their homes,” said Gillis. “I have a list of people who have a basement suite or a house they’re not using – it never fails to blow me away, the generosity of people who open up their place to share. They’ll share their kitchen or cook for them.
“I can always use more hosts for whatever amount of time they choose, whether it’s three months, six months or a year. Some people have just given us a great discount on a suite so it’s much more affordable.”
Gillis had one conversation last year with a family interrupted by the sound of bombs exploding in the background near their Ukrainian home and within an hour of them leaving for the journey to Canada their house was demolished. One of the Prince George families is from Bucha, a city of the outskirts of the capital Kyiv used by Russians as a staging ground for an invasion of the capital Kyiv, where atrocities were committed and murdered residents were left murdered residents lying in the streets.
Mynen often asks the newcomers if they would return to Ukraine once the war is over. Most have told him they would not.
“I’d say 80 per cent are staying, and it’s for the kids,” said Mynen. “The next number of years in Ukraine are going to be hard with universities and schools (destroyed) and rebuilding is going to take awhile. The kids that are here, they see them finishing post-secondary here, and once you’ve established your life that long, many of them will just stay.”
Share Hope and the Ukrainian community will gather for a public ceremony Thursday at 6 p.m. at City Hall to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the war.
On Saturday, Hart Ski Hill is providing free ski rentals and lift tickets to Ukrainian refugees. Donors are asked to go to the Share Hope website for more information.