Nearly a year since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, community organizations across Canada have been working tirelessly to make a welcoming home for refugees who have lost everything in the war.
Joan Lewandosky is among many Canadians hoping to be the warm welcome so many Ukrainian people have been seeking since Russia's invasion in February 2022.
Lewandosky, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) in Manitoba, says her team of volunteers has worked alongside the provincial government to offer refugees help with acquiring food, clothes, job applications, housing and furniture across the province.
"Manitoba has opened their hearts, their wallets and their homes; it's been a very giving province, however, it hasn't stopped because we still are getting a lot of people coming weekly," Lewandosky told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Jan. 16.
As of Jan. 24, 2023, Canada has approved 514,020 applications through the temporary Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program. Through the program, Ukrainians escaping the war can apply for express entry into Canada on a visitor visa that allows them to live, work and study in the country for up to three years.
That includes people like 23-year-old Anastasiia Haiduchenko, who escaped the war with her husband in June 2022 after applying through the program and saying goodbye to her family that stayed back in Kherson.
Haiduchenko says she stayed in Ukraine for the first two months of Russia's invasion, but once the application for her and her husband to come to Canada was approved, they settled in Calgary.
"We packed all our things in a couple of days. We just left our home so fast and it was really stressful at first when we came here," Haiduchenko said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca on Wednesday.
Haiduchenko says they stayed with a host family for the first two months but were able to move into a basement apartment on their own.
In Ukraine, she worked as a social media marketer. Now that she's made a home in Canada, she started a blog on Instagram documenting her process, hoping to help other Ukrainians moving to Canada.
"A lot of people came here with nothing, literally nothing, and now that we found a home for us, I'm trying not to take and I'm trying to give that to the community," she said.
MENTAL HEALTH AND CHILDCARE SUPPORT NEEDED
While the federal government has offered support to those in the CUAET program with a one-time payment of $3,000 per adult and $1,500 per child, Lewandosky says there is still a need for help, especially in mental health counseling and child-care support.
Data from the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), sent to CTVNews.ca via email on Jan. 19, indicates there is a larger group of Ukrainian women than men arriving in Canada through the CUAET program. Between February and December of 2022, an estimated 37,785 men have been processed through the program, while women totalled 51,095. This includes people of all ages, and an estimated 10 people did not specify their gender.
Lewandosky says there needs to be more support given to women and children, given the amount of men who have stayed back in Ukraine to support the military. Since the beginning of the war, martial law was declared to refrain men aged 18 to 60 from leaving Ukraine unless they met certain criteria like having more than three children under the age of 18 or raising children on their own, among others.
"We need more help and daycares because there's a lot of single mothers whose husbands have been left behind and they've come with young children and they can't work if they don't have a daycare," she said.
The language barrier has been exceptionally tough for many of the refugees, Lewandosky says, especially when it comes to mental health counselling which she says there needs to be a greater focus on for the younger children.
"These children are traumatized, they need psychological attention, they need counselling and so we're trying to work out to get some support systems that have the language skills for the educational system because their mental health issues need attention," she said.
B.C. city councillor Ahmed Yousef, who led the Ridge Meadows Ukrainian Welcoming Committee, says mental health efforts are especially important because of the isolation that can come with the language barrier many newcomers face when trying to fit in to their community.
"Something that we continue to see is that isolation, that they are still looked at as outsiders for the most part, so people will not be as ready to approach predominantly because of the language barrier," Yousef told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Wednesday.
Haiduchenko, whose parents stayed in Ukraine to be with both of her grandmothers, says being separated from her family has been the most difficult part of immigrating to Canada. Despite the Russian military withdrawing from Kherson, she still worries about her family and the people of Ukraine, especially if people outside of Ukraine begin to forget about the ongoing war.
"I know it's almost one year of this war, but please don't forget about everything that's happening there because if people will forget, my family will never feel safe," she said. "It's still important and the war is still there."