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'It’s a really great place': Ukrainian newcomers discuss life in Canada after fleeing war-torn country

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Feb. 24 marks two years since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, forcing thousands to flee the war-torn country. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians now call Manitoba home, but many still face challenges as they adjust to life in Canada.

“Right now, the biggest concern is English,” said Nick Krawetz, who volunteers with Ukrainian newcomers. “We're seeing a lot of people come with very limited or maybe pre-intermediate proficiency in English. And that really determines their prospects for finding a job quickly and getting a higher paying job to support themselves.”

According to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Manitoba Provincial Council, other issues include finding a job, housing and childcare. But the organization’s president said its volunteers have been doing everything they can to support as many people as possible.

“It's been a roller coaster ride. It hasn't been easy,” said Joanne Lewandowsky, the president of the congress. “We're trying our best…We have welcomed the newcomers, with open hearts, with open wallets and opened doors. And we're continuing.”

Through the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program, 221,231 Ukrainians arrived in Canada between March 2022 and January of this year. Of those, over 23,000 made the move to Manitoba, with 7,000 more expected to arrive before the program’s expiry date at the end of March.

“People could still come after March 31, they would just not be able to access temporary accommodation or the payment from the federal government,” said Emily Halldorson, the Manitoba Association of Newcomer Serving Organizations’ humanitarian response specialist.

But those resources are vital to newcomers like Olesia Chychkevych and her family. In the months following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Chychkevych first fled to Poland before arriving in Canada with her three sons in 2022.

“I just packed suitcases, everything that we need,” she said, adding that her family didn’t have enough money when they arrived. “It was horrible for everyone.”

“I was surprised because Manitoba welcomed us very (warmly),” she said, referring to the additional accommodations of a hotel and food.

Chychkevych said she is grateful she was able to find a job and a supportive community. But others aren’t so lucky, especially those who struggle with English. However, the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre Oseredok is trying to tackle the obstacle by providing English language classes.

“Apart from providing crucial skills to survive in the English language society, they also show that we are here for them.”

Here – in a place thousands of kilometres away from their former home.

“It’s a really great place and I’m just happy that my kids will have a great future here,” said Chychkevych.

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