The arrival of hundreds of Ukrainian refugees at the Winnipeg airport Monday afternoon was an emotional experience — and not only for those touching down in Canada for the first time.
Nick Krawetz, a director at the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, was on site for the arrival in his role as a volunteer with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC).
“It was a very special day, and certainly one that our community will remember for a long time,” Krawetz told 680 CJOB’s Connecting Winnipeg.
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“It was an overwhelming success and could not have gone any smoother. People were processed very quickly, very efficiently — they processed 328 people in a matter of hours. It was very special to see.”
Most of the new arrivals are staying at the Best Western near the airport, where they’ll have a chance to unwind, Krawetz said.
“A lot of these people have been displaced for a number of months … many of them were forced to flee their homes. Some of them are actually from the front lines,” he said.
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“One of the last families to get off the plane was a family of five from the city of Mariupol, a city … that was completely destroyed.
“It was really heartwarming to see them on the plane, and now they’re making their new home in Winnipeg.”
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On the flight was Anna Andriienko, her husband Yarsolav and their two-year-old son. They woke up on Canadian soil Tuesday after fleeing northern Ukraine months ago.
The family is feeling a sense of relief through the jetlag, but there’s lots to get done in the coming days and months.
They’re taking it one step at a time, navigating settlement resources at the Best Western.
Organizations like the UCC, along with the provincial and federal governments and other stakeholders, have set up a hub at the hotel to help refugees access supports like obtaining health cards and social insurance numbers, along with securing long-term housing and work.
“The people are very kind here. It’s great to be here,” Andriienko said.
“We didn’t have a lot of information about Manitoba when we arrived, and we have no relatives here, so now we don’t know where to stay.”
Andriienko and her husband have a number of decisions on their plate, whether to settle in Manitoba or elsewhere like Alberta, where there’s also a large Ukrainian population. Some of that will depend on where the couple can find jobs and a permanent home.
Despite the uncertainty, they’re grateful they’re on their way to securing a safe future for their son.
The family was among 326 Ukrainian refugees who landed in Winnipeg on Monday, most of whom are also staying at the hotel, which is bustling with activity.
“It is really very busy. The hotel is full,” Mwumvaneza Azarias, a housing advisor with New Journey Housing, told Global News on Tuesday.
The organization is tasked with helping families explore longer-term housing options throughout the province.
Households fill out intake forms and meet with New Journey Housing staff before choosing an apartment or house.
Azarias had already met with several families Tuesday morning before speaking with Global News.
“We are working with different landlords and different subsidized houses or apartments. I cannot say we have enough, but people are being housed,” Azarias said.
The organization is asking landlords and property owners to get in touch if they have self-contained units they’d like to rent out.
Child care and jobs are also top of mind for Krawetz.
“About a third of them (who) have come are small kids, and a lot of the parents are asking, ‘You know, where can our child go during the summer months given that the school year is about to end?’” he said.
As they actively discuss summer programming for the kids, Krawetz is celebrating the successful arrival of so many Ukrainians on Monday.
“I think Manitoba passed the test yesterday,” he said.
“I think we scored a lot of points on behalf of the province showing how friendly we are and how smooth the operation went.”
The plane was the first of three chartered flights expected to land in Canada within the next week.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser has said the three flights are helping bring some of the approximately 90,000 Ukrainians approved for emergency travel into Canada.
The second plane is scheduled to leave for Montreal from Poland on May 29 and the third, bound for Halifax, will take off on June 2.
– with files from Global News’ Marek Tkach and Rosanna Hempel
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