Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, over one-third of Ukraine’s population has been displaced by the ongoing war, with over eight million Ukrainians seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
In response to the war, the Canadian government created the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET) program, which allows Ukrainians fleeing the war to live and work in Canada for three years.
So far, 592,405 CUAET applications have been approved and 177, 958 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada since last year, according to the Canadian government.
Over 22,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Alberta through the CUAET program, and many have struggled to find housing and jobs, learn English, and financially support themselves as they work to establish themselves here in Alberta.
In an effort to help these newcomers, Calgary’s St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor established an Aid Committee to assist Ukrainians that have come to Calgary.
“There’s a lot of people who come to St Vlad’s for help as they arrive in Calgary because they are running from war, and they are looking for information, materials and support. And that’s what our committee within St. Vlads does,” says Yulia Gorbach, the chair of the Ukrainian Humanitarian Aid Committee.
The church has been open every Saturday since March 2022 to provide assistance to Ukrainian evacuees. Currently, the church helps about 500 people every Saturday where evacuees can receive essential information about getting SIN numbers, health care, driver’s licenses, and other government supports. Evacuees also receive basic living supplies, as well as food, and connect with settlement agencies that help Ukrainians with job and housing searches, and English classes.
Basic supplies such as bedding and kitchenware, along with the food provided by the donation centre are especially helpful for the many evacuees struggling financially. Under the CUAET program, each adult receives $3,000 and each child receives $1,500, but this is hardly enough to establish a life in Calgary.
“When people get their own place here in Calgary, it’s very expensive. So sometimes they have to pay rent and they don’t have money for food. So it’s either one or the other. So it’s a real struggle,” says Gorbach.
Various settlement agencies such as the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, the Centre for Newcomers, Immigrant Services Calgary, and Gateway Calgary are also at the church every Saturday where they provide information about the services they provide to Ukrainian evacuees.
These agencies offer support for job and housing searches, English classes, child care and can put evacuees in touch with educational and career counsellors.
The committee relies heavily on volunteer and community support to continue to help evacuees every week as they do not receive any government funding, so the partnership of many community organizations as well as the help from volunteers, is essential.
The committee says they are most in need of financial support, as well as host families who can give evacuees a place to stay while they settle in Calgary.
“The biggest ask I think is for volunteer hosts for those to house those Ukrainians in the first couple of months for them to find the job, learn a little bit of English and find their own space. That would alleviate a lot of struggle and reduce homelessness, hunger and human trafficking. So that would be a tremendous ask from Calgarians,” says Gorbach.
Since last year, the committee has helped over 8,300 evacuees and hopes to continue supporting them with the help of the community.
Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story spelled Yulia Gorbach’s name incorrectly. We apologize for the error.