Canada has quickly rolled out the welcome mat to displaced Ukrainians but the real job has just started: How to properly settle them?

Source: 
Toronto Star

Nicholas Keung The Star Mon., May 30, 2022

Nataliia Morozova has a lot on her mind.

First and foremost, the safety of her husband and other family members who are still in Ukraine, as Morozova and her daughter try to get by in Canada.

Then, there’s money.

Morozova and her daughter have been pinching pennies, conscious every time they buy something or just hop on the TTC, that they currently have no source of income and no way to transfer a large sum of money out of Ukraine.

Morozova has gone from job fair to job fair in Toronto, trying to secure a paycheque to make rent. Raisa Harusova, a Grade 12 student at Bloor Collegiate Institute, too, is seeking employment, unsure how she could afford the significant university tuition fees she faces as an international student without any financial help.

The family had a different life, a good life, before Russian troops started bombing their country in February.

The 47-year-old worked in IT and human resources management and her husband had a successful business selling electronics. They travelled often and sent Harusova, their only child, to study in Canada four years ago as a foreign student.

The mother and daughter are among the thousands of displaced Ukrainians who have been admitted for temporary refuge in Canada under Ottawa’s special travel program in response to the now three-month-old Russian invasion.

“We are grateful to be in Canada because there’s no safe place in our country now,” says Morozova, who happened to be visiting her 17-year-old daughter when the war broke out and is now staying here on an extended visa. “Having any financial support would be helpful.”

That relief is finally coming as Ottawa recently released details about the long-overdue income support for displaced Ukrainians arriving in Canada under the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program.

Starting Thursday, any Ukrainian with a valid work permit, study permit, temporary resident permit or visitor record under the travel program can apply online for a one-time financial support of $3,000 per adult and $1,500 per child under the Canada-Ukraine Transitional Assistance Initiative.

The initiative is being implemented almost eight weeks after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first announced the income support for Ukrainians through Twitter on April 9, while the first of the promised government chartered flights only landed in Winnipeg over the Victoria Day long weekend.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress welcomed the news and said the financial support is a big step forward for new arrivals.

“I think the government understands that the people coming from a situation where they’ve fled their homes and from the war can’t just find an apartment or a job the next day even if they do get a work permit. It’s going to take time for people to transition to life in Canada,” said Ihor Michalchyshyn, the council’s CEO.

“We are pleased to see they’ve adjusted some of the services that people are eligible for. But what’s really been chaotic and we’re hoping it will change, is there’s a lack of connection. People just arrive on their own and they’re supposed to figure it all out on their own. There’s no well-organized, systemic welcoming process.”

Since Canada opened the door to displaced Ukrainians, officials have received 241,620 applications for temporary residence in Canada and approved 112,035 of the cases. More than 32,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada since January though the number includes returning Canadian permanent residents of Ukrainian origin.

The new arrivals — most of them elderly, or mothers and children, as healthy adult males are banned from leaving the country — have been trickling in on their own through commercial flights from various parts of Europe, which is already home to six million displaced Ukraines. Even though Ottawa has made immigrant settlement services available to them, many are being left to navigate the system on their own.

“They fled and don’t have the resources. They may not know anybody. They’re not here as tourists. They’re not here as temporary foreign workers. They’re not here as refugees in a legal sense but their needs are mostly those of refugees,” said Michalchyshyn.

“There’s lots of Canadians who want to help. But there’s also frustration. How do you find people to help? I get a lot of calls but the community doesn’t have a list of people who are arriving. We’re kind of catching them after they arrive. It’s very confusing for everybody.”

Through different social media groups created by volunteers, newly arrived Ukrainians post messages looking for help. Temporary accommodation has been the top request as many find themselves nowhere to stay upon arrival.

That’s how Andrii Pochatkin connected with Guillaume Deziel and his wife, Veronique Tessier, in Montreal, who offered his family’s cottage in Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez, a village two hours’ drive from Montreal, to the Ukrainian chiropractor and his family.

The family fled their home in Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine for Poland on March 12. Although Pochatkin, his wife Helena Halyna and their three children were provided with food, clothes, health care, shelter and a monthly stipend to cover expenses, Poland was overwhelmed by the three million Ukrainians there and there were no jobs to come by.

Pochatkin sold the car they fled with to pay for the $4,000 airfare in Euros to Canada.

“We ran from the war and can finally sleep calmly without hearing any bombing,” said the 57-year-old, who along with his family arrived on May 6. (He only got to leave Ukraine because he has three children and was waived the mandatory stay in the country against men between age 18 and 60.)

Added Halyna, through the translation of her 16-year-old son, Olexksii, “We would’ve stayed in Ukraine if we had no kids. We need to find a place for their future.”

So far, the family has been relying on a patchwork of support put together by Deziel: a rental car sponsored by a local dealership and giftcards solicited through personal networks and a crowdfunding campaign.

Deziel said he’s been looking up information online and calling different government departments to help his guests but has been frustrated with the runarounds and lack of co-ordination between levels of government.

“Something was promised to the Ukrainians. They come and there’s nothing. You go to this place to get a form and they say you need this and refer you to another place. It’s a big mess,” said Deziel, who runs his own product development company.

Deziel has used his contacts to find jobs for Pochatkin and Halyna, a homemaker, in maintenance and the kitchen of a summer camp, but the family will need to find a more permanent home in early July.

Here in Toronto, trying to find a shelter space is a challenge for all newly arrived refugees, let alone affordable housing, sys Laura Friesen, a settlement worker with the Romero House, which runs four transitional houses for up to 10 refugee families at a time.

“This is a very recurring issue. The issue of affordable housing in Toronto has not been resolved. So we’re calling on people in the community with spare bedrooms, with spare basements to open up their homes on an emergency temporary basis for refugees who cannot get a shelter spot in the in the city,” Friesen said.

She said her agency relaunched its Community Host program last October after newcomers had a hard time securing a spot in the city’s shelter system due to pandemic-related public health restrictions and a surge of new arrivals with the reopening of the border to refugees.

“It’s not just Ukrainians arriving to Canada. People from all over the world are arriving and facing difficulties finding housing in Toronto. Refugees who don’t come under government or private sponsorships don’t get housing support,” Friesen said. “They have to figure everything out on their own.”

Fortunately, there’s no lack of goodwill.

Many businesses have started programs to assist Ukrainians arriving here. A group of Canada’s largest private and public rental housing providers, for example, is offering 400 apartments with various relief packages, such as reduced/free rent, waiving deposit requirements and added furnishings.

FlightHub has pledged $100,000 in plane tickets or 100 long-haul flights to bring displaced Ukranians to Canada with help from 4Ukraine.ca, a Canadian not-for-profit, to guide the process from pre-departure preparation to arrival, host family background checks and job search support. Three families have arrived in Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver through the program.

A new program called the Ukraine2Canada Travel Fund — in partnership with Miles4Migrants, Air Canada and The Shapiro Foundation — is also aiming to provide free airfare for up to 10,000 Ukrainians fleeing to Canada.

Unlike Ottawa’s massive resettlement project in 2015, which brought in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in a short time frame, the settlement sector has not been overwhelmed by the arriving Ukrainians.

However, the challenge has been how to capture the arriving Ukrainians so they are not falling through the cracks, said Mario Calla, executive director of COSTI, one of Greater Toronto’s largest immigrant settlement agencies.

In the past six weeks, about 100 Ukrainians have found their way to COSTI for assistance; about 85 per cent of them are staying temporarily with friends and family but in need of securing permanent housing.

COSTI is partnering with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and other community organizations to provide services for Ukrainian newcomers. One initiative is the volunteer housing assistance program, which matches families with vetted hosts for accommodation. There are about 200 offers in the GTA and six matches have been made since the beginning of May.

“The government put together a program that actually gave them a quick way of getting people over here but they didn’t have the time to consider the policy implications,” said Calla. “Many of those gaps have been addressed but it’s still a challenge.”

One of those challenges is education. While Ukrainian children can attend elementary and secondary schools for free, they must still pay international tuition fees if they try to access post-secondary education.

Morozova said she’s hoping to get a partial refund of the $16,000 annual tuition she had paid the Toronto District School Board for her daughter’s studies at Bloor Collegiateafter they got a new visa under Ottawa’s special travel program for Ukrainians.

Harusova has been accepted in the undergraduate business program at the University of Toronto but she will have to fork out $60,000 in tuition as an international student.

“I’m still focusing on looking for scholarships and grants. I will keep applying until I can’t find more to apply to,” said Harusova, whose father has remained in Kyiv volunteering in the city’s rebuilding.

The two also need to battle red tape. They were issued a work permit in April from federal immigration but were denied OHIP because the permits were coded incorrectly. They reapplied for a new permit and were told in mid-May that the new application was cancelled.

From a bench in the sunroom of the picturesque cottage in Quebec, Pochatkin — sporting a white T-shirt donated by someone in Poland — said the family has to stick it out in Canada no matter what because they no longer have a home to go back to.

“You worked hard all your life and you lost everything to the war. It’s sad, but the main thing is our family is altogether,” said Pochatkin. “It’s impossible to go back. Parks. Houses. Schools. Hospitals. Everything is destroyed. I will forever miss the piece of my soul that I left in Ukraine.”