Less than a month after Russia invaded Ukraine, Kelly Power received a message from an old friend asking if she would be willing to host her 16-year-old brother, if he could come to Earth -New.
The boy was in Ukraine and his sister was trying to get him out. She had lived in Newfoundland and had worked with Power at a pharmacy four years prior. They got on well and remained friends, even after the sister left.
Power, 52, said she had no hesitation in accepting the boy.
“If I said no, he wouldn’t have anywhere to go,” she said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press. “I was his way out.”
The teenager is now due to arrive in St. John’s on Monday, on a plane from Poland chartered by the provincial government and carrying up to 175 Ukrainian refugees.
The flight is part of a massive effort led by the provincial government and supported by a network of unaffiliated volunteers – and people like Power – who are working to bring Ukrainians to Canada’s easternmost province and ensure they are safe, housed and cared for.
Newfoundland and Labrador opened a satellite office in Warsaw, Poland, in March to help Ukrainians fleeing Russian attacks resettle in the province, beating Ottawa by nearly two months.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Thursday that the federal government would open an office in Warsaw to help Ukrainians come to Canada, and made a surprise visit to the capital Kyiv on Sunday to officially reopen the Canadian embassy.
Newfoundland and Labrador Immigration Minister Gerry Byrne insists the plane arriving Monday is the first government-chartered flight to bring Ukrainian refugees to Canada. His department had not confirmed how many would be on board Sunday evening, but a spokesperson said Friday 175 was the “working number”.
Preparing for arrival and dispatching aid
Power gets emotional as she talks about the teenager who arrived Monday — whose name The Canadian Press has agreed not to publish — and everything he’ll need: clothes, bedding, help with his English and friends.
She said her sister worked hard with the team at the Newfoundland and Labrador office in Warsaw to get her a visa, passport and a way out of Ukraine and into Poland to complete the flight.
The trip to St. John’s will be difficult, Power said: he leaves his parents behind, as well as his dog. He has never flown and has just turned 16.
Adilya Dragan was preparing a box of clothes and supplies for the teenager on Friday afternoon.
The 32-year-old Russian lives just outside St. John’s and she hosts a Facebook group dedicated to sending medicine and supplies from Newfoundland to Ukraine.
Now, the group is also dedicated to helping refugees who will arrive on Monday’s flight.
Dragan said she receives dozens of Facebook messages every hour from Ukrainians and those seeking to help them. She built a spreadsheet tracking Ukrainians who contacted her to say they were on Monday’s flight and connected them with volunteers offering furniture, clothing or housing. Several rooms in her house are overrun with heaps of donated supplies, and she has set up public drop-off sites where other things await her.
Dragan and his team of volunteers are gathering boxes of clothes, shoes, food, toiletries, dishes and dish soap, and they’ll be at the airport on Monday with a personalized package for everyone on his list, and others. items for everyone on the plane.
“We will have a notice board and brochures,” she said. “And once people come out, we’ll greet them in Ukrainian and hand out information to them so they can contact us and tell us what they need.”
Dragan said she was overwhelmed with people in St. John’s offering help, though more volunteers, supplies and donations are still needed.
“People are great here,” she said. “I love Newfoundlanders, they are great people. You won’t find these people anywhere else in the world.
The mother-of-three has her own full-time job, and she said all the work sending aid to Ukraine and preparing for the arrival of refugees has become a second full-time job.
“My husband, he has family in Ukraine, and my best friend is Ukrainian,” Dragan explained. “I just want to help.”
Meanwhile, a woman from Irpin, a suburb just outside the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, has some advice for those landing in St. John’s on Monday.
Galyna Velychko knows firsthand what it was like to uproot her life and flee to safety after spending the early days of the Russian invasion debating whether or not to leave.
She told CBC News that when Russian tanks started descending on nearby Bucha, about 30 kilometers west of kyiv, she paused towards the Polish border.
“It was a really difficult decision and she still suffers from post-traumatic stress. She cries every day. She sees her house in her dreams,” said her daughter, Nadiya Butt-Velychko, acting as a translator during the the interview.
“It’s terrible. It’s really difficult. But she hopes for better. She made this decision to come here for her own good, for her mental health, just to try to recover and to try to have as much as possible. a stress-free life.”
Galyna Velychko has been living for about a month in Harbor Grace, a place her daughter has called home for years.
She said adapting was not easy and was devastated to learn that her community, home and workplace had been destroyed.
Since arriving in Newfoundland, Galyna Velychko started meeting people in Harbor Grace, started learning English and even got a job at a local grocery store.
Her daughter said she was proactive during her first week at Harbor Grace, which enabled her mother to move on with her life rather than thinking about home.
Galyna Velychko offers advice to other Ukrainian newcomers arriving later on Monday: don’t be discouraged.
“It will be difficult at first, but think back to Ukraine and think about the people who are fighting there and the people who are staying there. It’s much harder for them. Eventually it will get better.”
Part of the community
The flight carrying about 175 Ukrainians seeking safety and shelter in Newfoundland and Labrador is due to land in St. John’s on Monday evening.
It is the first government-led arrival since the province set up an office in Poland in mid-March to attract those fleeing the conflict.
Byrne said the flight represents a “cross section” of Ukraine, with single mothers, grandparents and many others heading to Newfoundland soil. Some on the flight are starting to run and will be heading to their newly obtained jobs as early as Tuesday morning, Byrne said.
“We’ve really worked to develop a positive, trusting, trusting relationship with those who come. It was never just about ‘fill out a form and we’ll get you on a flight,'” he said.
“We want them to be successful when they arrive. We want them to feel at home and we want them to be part of our community and neighborhoods immediately.”
Short-term housing is in place, Byrne said, but he is asking residents to give newcomers time and “reasonable space” after fleeing their war-torn homes.
“Give them that respect,” he said.
Byrne said travelers will be met by Canada Border Services, public health officials, the provincial immigration office and the Association for New Canadians and its team of volunteers upon arrival.
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