Federal emergency travel program for Ukrainians should be extended, N.S. group says

The Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET) program allows Ukrainians to live, work and study in Canada for up to three years. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
The Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET) program allows Ukrainians to live, work and study in Canada for up to three years. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

When Olga Ozeryan landed in Canada last June — fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine —  she was handed a work permit at the airport.

The young mother of two came to Nova Scotia through the federal government's Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET) program.

The program has already helped more than 177,000 Ukrainians live, work and study in Canada, and allows them to stay for up to three years. More than 590,000 applications have been approved.

"The most important thing that I will never forget is, all the Ukrainians now they receive their work permit in the airport," Ozeryan told CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia on Friday.

"I know that this is an absolutely, crazy wonderful thing that now you have opportunity to work. For me, it is very important to develop my expertise, not to be stuck and waiting somewhere."

However, the federal program is set to end on March 31. As someone who benefited from the program, Ozeryan said she hopes it will be extended.

Lyubov Zhyznomirska, the president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in Nova Scotia, agrees. Her organization has been calling on the federal government to extend the program.

"People of Ukraine are still displaced due to war. The war is still ongoing, so there's a need for them to find safe places to live," Zhyznomirska told Information Morning on Monday.

" … Being able to go to countries where they can support themselves, live without fear for their life [and] the life of their children, is critical."

Zhyznomirska said she has been seeing an uptick in applicants the last two months as the program comes to an end.

She said if the program is extended, she hopes it will be expanded to include pre-arranged housing and medical support.

"We don't want to put people in a position where, after escaping the war, [they] find themselves in the position of having the critical need for housing or medical support," she said.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Sean Fraser, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, declined an interview request, but his office provided a statement that said the federal government "remains committed to supporting those affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine."

"Minister Fraser remains engaged with stakeholders, Members of Parliament and community members, and looks forward to providing an update on this soon," the emailed statement said.

Ozeryan, who now lives in a basement apartment in Halifax with her mother and two children, said she's thankful to the Canadian government for providing a safe place to live.

As the war continues, she isn't sure if she'll return to Ukraine when it's over.

"For most Ukrainians, the only one thing that we are waiting for is our victory, so ... for now, we are here and we feel safe here," he said.

"Our life is, you know, like Freddie Mercury says, 'the show must go on,' so our life is going on and I'm very happy that my kids, they go to school, they study, I have work, so for now, we are here."