More volunteers needed as number of refugees in Manitoba passes 5,000: Ukrainian Canadian Congress

Manitobans who are helping Ukrainian refugees settle in the province say it has been seven months since the war began as they continue to work to help thousands of newcomers find shelter and jobs – and another influx is being reported in expected this winter.

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“I’m sure we’ve passed the 5,000 mark,” said Joanne Lewandowsky, President of the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress of Manitoba Province.

“We opened our hearts, we opened our pockets, we opened our doors. And we’re willing to share what we have with them,” Lewandowsky said in an interview with Radio-Canada.

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“We’re still welcoming them to friendly Manitoba, but I have to say it’s starting to take its toll on our community.”

The organization has 75 volunteers who work every day to help Ukrainians fleeing the war in their country find housing, jobs and government credentials.

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On Friday, a provincial spokesman confirmed that 5,300 Manitoba health cards have been issued to Ukrainian refugees since the Russian invasion began in February.

Joanne Lewandosky, president of Manitoba’s Ukrainian-Canadian Congress, says more volunteers are needed as the number of Ukrainian refugees in the province has surpassed 5,000. She expects more to come this winter. (Ron Boileau/Radio Canada)

Lewandowsky says her organization was prepared for the refugees, but not for the number of arrivals. She says over 500 Ukrainians were welcomed to the province in a week recently.

Aid begins at the Winnipeg airport, where volunteers welcome refugees, she said.

“We will accompany you through the entire process,” said Lewandowsky. “But if you don’t know how many are coming, it’s a difficult situation.”

And the number of refugees arriving in Manitoba is not expected to decrease any time soon. “I think we’ll see an influx before winter,” said Lewandowsky.

Ukrainians coming to Manitoba face a number of challenges upon arrival, including work and language barriers, but Lewandowsky says the biggest challenge was finding childcare.

“Daycare and before and after school [programming] is probably the biggest problem right now.”

Many of the newcomers fleeing the war in Ukraine are mothers with children who arrive without spouses or family members to support them, Lewandowsky says. The government is aware of their needs, she says.

“I think the concern is if we don’t get daycare, how can these moms support themselves? How do they get jobs?”

Daryna Beha, who arrived in Winnipeg from Ukraine last August, is fortunate to have found childcare for her daughter. She says that since her husband is still in Ukraine, she has had free time to volunteer at the airport’s welcome center while she continues her job search.

“There aren’t enough volunteers, so I decided to give my time and give something back,” she said in an interview with Radio-Canada.

“When I arrived, I needed help.”

Beha, who came to Winnipeg last August, says helping other Ukrainian newcomers is “just part of our nationality.” (Gilbert Rowan/Radio Canada)

Beha is fluent in English and Ukrainian — a skill she says helps many new refugees relax.

“When they see someone who can communicate in the same language as them, they can have peace of mind that someone is taking care of them. It helps them feel more secure,” she said.

“I understand how difficult it can be for a newcomer because I’ve been through it alone.”

The help she is providing is part of a shared legacy, Beha said.

“It’s just part of our nationality – we like to help each other.”

Irina Lisovets, who originally comes from Cherson in the Ukraine, also volunteers at the welcome center. She came to Winnipeg almost three weeks ago.

Lisovets said she was motivated to volunteer at the front desk because she was panicking on her first day in Manitoba and now wants to help reassure other newcomers arriving in the province.

“This is a very important desk for Ukrainians,” she said in an interview with Radio-Canada.

Lisovets, who is originally from Kherson and arrived in Winnipeg nearly three weeks ago, says she was motivated to volunteer at the airport because she wants to help calm other new arrivals. (Gilbert Rowan/Radio Canada)

Lewandowsky says many newcomers from other parts of the country travel to Manitoba because of the higher cost of living, and she says more volunteers are needed.

“It’s not an easy job. It’s a tough job and it takes its toll on people,” Lewandowsky said.

“The situation in Ukraine isn’t getting better anytime soon… It’s been a long seven months.”

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