Ros Lysychuk, all eight years old but with the wary eyes of someone much older, wanted to know how he would find his classroom, in a new school, new city and new country that he had arrived in less than a week before.
“It’s simple. Just look for the Ukrainian flags,” his father, Artem Lysychuk, assured him.
Earlier this month, Ros walked into the third grade class at Topsail Elementary School in Conception Bay South, NL, and saw her new classmates waving the little blue and yellow flags of her homeland. It was a welcome gesture for a boy whose world has been turned upside down by war. Back home in Kolomyia, Ukraine, several of his former classmates have been killed in the fighting. His father says he doesn’t know how to tell her.
Three months ago, the Lysychuk family, including their mother, Yana Lysychuk, their 5-year-old sister Sophia, and their 5-month-old brother Lukian, had to leave their life in the small town of about 40,000 people in western Ukraine. . Before sunrise on the morning of February 24, Russian missiles targeted Kolomyia airport, just a few kilometers away. The parents woke their children up and told them they had to leave immediately.
“I told her, ‘Honey, wake up, it’s war.’ It was terrible. Words no parent should have to say,” Lysychuk said, in English.
Canada has one of the world’s largest populations of people of Ukrainian descent, however Newfoundland and Labrador has one of the smallest, with only around 1,400 people. But the province, with a small army of volunteers, is relocating hundreds of Ukrainians as part of a massive humanitarian effort to connect new arrivals with jobs, houses, furniture, dishes, clothes, bank accounts, access to health care, phone numbers. social security and food. .
A week ago, more than 160 Ukrainians, eight cats and three dogs arrived on a charter plane at St. John’s airport, some bringing little more than a few suitcases per family. They have been granted temporary resident status here, which entitles them to work for three years in Canada.
The province had to fund their access to some resettlement services as they are not considered refugees (they had other countries they could have gone to) and are not eligible for some federal funds. Many say they were touched by the Newfoundlanders’ famous hospitality and hope that they will eventually become permanent residents.
Dozens more have come as the Lysychuk family did, finding their own way to the province through the help of local churches, relatives and others. The Lysychuks came to Newfoundland thanks to Pastor Fred Penney of Elim Pentecostal Tabernacle Church in St. John’s, after crossing the Romanian border on foot and then traveling to Italy while awaiting approval to come to Canada.
The pastor, who taught Mr. Lysychuk and his wife years ago when he worked in Lviv, reached out when the war broke out and offered to sponsor them. He paid for their flights to Canada, gave them free rein in his home, lent them his truck and started raising funds to get them a vehicle of their own.
“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him,” said Ms. Lysychuk. “The most important thing for us is that our children are safe now. We are very grateful for that.”
One of the first priorities is to find employment for Ukrainians. A job fair was held in St. John’s last week, bringing them together with employers looking to fill vacancies in health care, food and hospitality, construction, technology, transportation, science and professional services. English classes are already being held to help Ukrainians who have difficulties with the language.
“We need jobs, that’s the first thing,” said Tetiana Pavliuk, who arrived on the plane last week, in near-perfect English. “If we have that, everything else we can fix.”
In her previous life, in kyiv, she was a marketer working for major agricultural companies and later ran her own event planning agency. Ms. Pavliuk, one of perhaps a few dozen who came on the plane who speaks English, hopes to return to that kind of work eventually, but right now she’s looking for anything.
When the Russians began shelling the capital, Ms. Pavliuk and dozens of others sought refuge in a former Soviet-era bomb shelter below the city. She stayed for two days, until she saw the bloodied faces of the people who had tried to surface to retrieve things from her apartment.
“I decided it was time to go,” he said.
Ms. Pavliuk, who now calls a room at a St. John’s Holiday Inn home, spent two months in Poland before her application to come to Canada was accepted. She knew little of Newfoundland before she arrived. After a few days of experiencing the province’s notoriously bad weather, she realized that she would need a better coat and bought a rain jacket. And she says she misses Ukrainian bread: the soft, sliced stuff she found at local grocery stores just isn’t enough.
But she is optimistic that there are opportunities in Canada for her, even if the future feels uncertain.
“I feel very welcome here,” she said.
Newfoundland, facing an aging and shrinking population, has tapped into newcomers as a way to ease its demographic challenges. It has seen waves of Afghan and Syrian refugees in the recent past, and those new arrivals have helped diversify the province’s workforce and bring a new entrepreneurial spirit here.
“We’d be delighted if they wanted to stay,” said Megan Morris, executive director of the Association for New Canadians, a St. John’s-based agency that helps resettle refugees. “This is why it is essential that we provide them with a good resettlement experience. I believe that employment and laying down roots is essential.”
Many Newfoundlanders have been very generous in their desire to help Ukrainians, even opening their doors to offer temporary housing, he said. A drop off center is opening to accommodate the many donations of household items, toys, and other large items.
“A lot of people have reached out and said ‘I have a house, I have an apartment, I have a summer cabin or I’m empty nester with a couple of rooms in my house,’” Morris said. “We’ve had countless offers.”
Although Mr. Lysychuk still begins his mornings searching for updates on the war in Ukraine, with each passing day he is more convinced that his family has found a new home in Newfoundland. The weather can be lousy, he admits, but the people are very warm.
“I think this is the right place for Ukrainians,” he said.
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