The first government-chartered group of Ukrainian refugees seeking shelter in Newfoundland and Labrador has landed in St. John's.
The flight touched down at St. John's International Airport near 7 p.m. NT after taking off from the Polish city of Katowice. A total of 166 refugees were on board, including 55 children, according to Premier Andrew Furey, who welcomed them to the province after their landing.
The flight, chartered by the province's Immigration Department, is part of rescue efforts first launched by the provincial government in March, which established a satellite office in Warsaw to help Ukrainians fleeing Russian attacks resettle in the province.
The office worked with the incoming Ukrainians to sort out details like obtaining passports, visas, and transportation.
Once they cleared customs — and were welcomed by cheering locals — the arriving Ukrainians said they were thankful to be in Newfoundland and Labrador after a long trip.
"I'm happy!" Stan, a Ukrainian traveller, exclaimed to reporters, adding he even had a job lined up at a mine in Baie Verte.
"I was dreaming for years to come to Canada, and I got a job on my first day. It's just perfect, the local government helped me so much…. It's just wonderful."
Stan said he is still worried about his family back home — particularly his father, who is currently involved in the war — but is thankful for the opportunities the future may hold in Newfoundland.
"At the moment when the war began, I was in Europe. But I ... worry about my father…. He told me 'As I'm in this war, you have your chance for your future," he said.
"We pray [to] stop it, and all Ukrainians appreciate the help from all over the world. We feel it so much."
Immigration Minister Gerry Byrne said Monday's flight is the first government-chartered plane bringing Ukrainian refugees to Canada, although thousands have already landed on Canadian soil since the Russian invasion in February
Canada Border Services Agency data reveals over 19,000 Ukrainian arrivals in Canada so far this year, as Ottawa contends with a flood of applications from those seeking asylum. The federal government has approved over 90,000 temporary visa applications since mid-March.
In St. John's, both Furey and Byrne formed part of Newfoundland and Labrador's welcoming party, along with local employers and non-profit groups like the Association for New Canadians.
The provincial immigration minister previously told CBC News that some of the people on the flight have already found work, starting their new jobs as early as Tuesday morning.
One of those starting a job is Iryna, who will begin work with PAL Airlines this week.
"It's amazing it's still daytime, it's been such a long day," she laughed after a long trip across the Atlantic Ocean.
"People from [Newfoundland] have been supporting us a lot…I was planning to go to Toronto, actually. But they offered me a flight, and I was like 'Yeah! Lets do that.' I'm going to Newfoundland!"
Crowd welcomes with open arms
Furey called Monday a proud day for the province, saying both residents and officials are ready to support the incoming travellers however they can.
"This needs to be a place of safe haven," Furey said, speaking to CBC News at the airport just before the plane's arrival.
"These are people who have lost their homes — many of their homes, as we've seen on TV, have been destroyed by missiles. They have no place to call home, and we want to provide a home for them."
Furey said it's too early to tell how many more flights carrying incoming Ukrainians could land in the province, but says there are between 600 and 700 people who have connected with province's Ukrainian help desk waiting for entry.
He said they are also talking with Ottawa to help with things like education and health care for newcomers, but added it's more important to get the refugees on the ground in Newfoundland and Labrador first.
The airport's arrival area was also filled with a welcoming crowd, eager to make refugees feel at home in their new country.
Grade 8 student Natalie Mitchell held a poster created by students at St. Paul's Junior High in St. John's. She felt it important to be there to let children and families coming from Ukraine know they aren't alone in their journey.
"I just want all the Ukrainians to feel welcome here in Canada and here in Newfoundland, and I want them to know that there's people like them that care about them and want to support them," said Mitchell.
Wayne Holloway brought his large Ukrainian flag to welcome the travellers.
"It's incumbent upon us to make sure they feel welcome to Newfoundland. That we do everything we can. It's on our shoulders to make sure they feel welcome, and hopefully we can encourage them to stay."