PERTH-HURON – Ukrainian refugees sponsored by the Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron (MAPH)
have started to arrive in the region, and donations are still being solicited to help with settlement and flights.
“The Canadian government says they are paying for flights,” said MAPH Founder and Executive Director Dr. Gezahgn Wordofa. “No, it never happened. We had a charter flight, and it never happened.”
He made a trip to Poland to help arrange flights for some refugees.
Pam Robson, a MAPH volunteer from St Marys, said there has been fundraising at a grassroots level to help welcome Ukrainians and make them feel more comfortable after the terrible ordeal that forced them to leave their homes.
“We do have some donation tins around various businesses in St Marys collecting money to help with flights,” she said. “As Gezahgn said earlier, we’ve been waiting for the government to contribute to flights, and that hasn’t happened, and in the meantime, people are waiting to come. That’s just not acceptable, so we want to raise money to get them out of the area as soon as possible.”
Robson said people in the region have been welcoming and generous.
“We’ve accepted many different donations of supplies,” she said. “Some have been sent overseas. We have some in storage for when the people arrive, and they need things to get on with their lives.”
According to Robson, one of the problems getting government-chartered flights has been that most people coming from Ukraine are coming on three-year visas because they want to return to Ukraine to help rebuild the country when the war is over.
“So because they are not coming to be permanent residents, the government has been slow to respond to this with flights although that may be coming, we’re just not sure when,” she said. “In the meantime, we are raising money to go towards flights because the refugee camps are so crowded, and people are there, and it’s just unacceptable that they are in that situation if we can raise money to get them out of there faster.”
Robson said there had been people contacting the MAPH to say they have an entire house if needed to provide a home to refugees.
“That’s wonderful that people are opening up that type of opportunity, and lots of employers are saying they would hire people coming from Ukraine with work visas,” she said. “They are ready to work, and they want to work, so I am glad that there are employers that have specifically said they will hire them.”
Yana Onasenko is one of the first refugees to arrive in Perth-Huron.
“For now, the war continues, and we don’t have safe cities,” she said. “Yes, we have in western Ukraine, but sometimes we have the same problem with bombing those cities.”
Onasenko was living in Kyiv when the war began.
“I guess I don’t have a lot of words in English how to explain,” she said. “It was stressful because I didn’t know the war started. I was working, and I checked my messages. A girl told me that we had a problem and that I would be working alone because of the bombing. Then I started calling my family and friends because they were in the city when the bombing started, mostly in Kyiv.”
She said it’s a terrifying feeling when you call your family and they don’t answer.
“You don’t understand the situation,” said Onasenko. “It’s very horrible, and sometimes you’re scared because you don’t know what the situation will be in the future. Will you have contact with your family who stay in the cities where we have the fighting? Since February, I have had a few friends who have lost contact with me, and I don’t know what happened. I try to call – are they alive? Are they in a safe place? When the war started, we had big problems with the internet. We couldn’t call each other, so I hope the problem is that they don’t have the internet access, and that’s all.”
She said she wants to find a job here in Canada, gain some knowledge, and eventually go back to Ukraine. Arriving in Perth County has been different to fit in but not bad,
“It is sad because I’m not at home,” said Onasenko. “It’s good because I met many very kind people, and it’s emotional for me.”
Fundraising continues with a concert on May 13 at Knox Church in Stratford featuring multi-award-winning artist Loreena McKennitt, Gemini Award-winning actor Cedric Smith, Seana McKenna, The Bookends, INNERchamber’s Andrew Chung and Emily Hamper. Former Stratford festival actor Michael Fox will act as host for the event.
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