Ukrainian refugees content in rural Manitoba

·6 min read

In contrast to a violent incident involving a Ukrainian refugee who was stabbed at The Forks in Winnipeg on Canada Day, Ukrainian families that settled in rural Westman are finding support in their new communities.

Roberta Galbraith said she got involved with the Minnedosa for Ukrainian Families Committee because a community member thought she’d be a good fit with the group when it was formed at the end of May.

It was a bit of a process to find out how they would help the refugees, Galbraith said, but the group was fortunate in having the support of the town from the very start. Members of the community came forward with options for housing and furnishings.

Galbraith said the province has also done a good job helping Ukrainian families who choose to settle in Manitoba. The province reimburses them for the cost of their federal immigration medical examinations as part of the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel temporary resident visa program.

The province’s temporary assistance program, which has helped more than 1,700 Ukrainians so far, also provides short-term monthly financial support for housing, basic needs and supplemental health care, including prescription, dental and optical benefits.

Galbraith and the committee got in touch with Ukrainian families to share with them what Minnedosa was like. They sent an information package to Winnipeg, and soon two families came to tour the small town, about 50 kilometres north of Brandon. One of the families chose to stay in Winnipeg and the other arrived in Minnedosa on Friday. Thanks in part to some already-established Ukrainian families who had moved to Minnedosa several years ago, the family was well supported, including securing employment for some members of the family at Morris Industries Ltd., an agriculture equipment manufacturing company.

"We hear from these families that they want to work and support themselves. They’re looking for a hand up, not a handout, so I think that’s a really good mindset to come to Canada with."

Just as important as finding the new families work and housing, Galbraith said, is making them feel welcome and meeting them with kindness and understanding.

"We need to be respectful about the fact that a lot has gone on in their lives in this serious time, and they’re probably a little bewildered. It takes a bit of time to get your head around the fact that you had to flee your country … this was not a voluntary move."

One of the already-established Ukrainians living in Minnedosa is Ulyana Bohush, whose husband immigrated to Canada and settled in Minnedosa in 2010. She joined him in 2014 and then sponsored her brother, Roman Kundys, in 2016.

Bohush said she enjoys the small-town charm of Minnedosa and the safety of living in rural Manitoba.

"It’s nice that people know each other and help each other. It’s a nice community."

Both Bohush and Kundys were dentists in Ukraine and are working toward getting certified in Canada. The brother and sister have also been keeping busy since late May by helping the Minnedosa committee prepare to welcome new Ukrainian families fleeing the war. They’ve been focusing on helping new families who require translation. Even though most of the refugees coming from Ukraine have good English, Bohush said some of them still need help with more complex interactions.

"It’s not their first language, and some details are better explained to them [in Ukrainian] … especially for those that have no English."

Bohush said the Ukrainian families have expressed a lot of gratitude to everyone in the community who is doing so much to help them.

"They feel so happy to be here. I wish we can help everyone."

Sheryl Neault couldn’t agree more. The longtime Carberry resident, and member of that town’s committee to help Ukrainian families, has been integral to the settling of 10 families in her community.

"Our community has jumped in with so many donations. When our families first come, we try to set their apartments up, we try to make them feel homey."

This covers everything from fresh-cut flowers to home-cooked meals. Housing has come fully furnished thanks to donations, and people have also given children’s bikes and even gaming consoles like Xbox and Wii so that the displaced children have something to bring them joy and fun.

Neault said smaller communities are great places for Ukrainian families to settle because everyone knows everyone, and everyone wants to help.

"In rural Manitoba, everybody is somebody’s grandma, everybody is somebody’s friend. There’s just that extra bit of care."

Out of all the families that have settled in Carberry, located 50 kilometres east of Brandon, not one has expressed a desire to leave, something that Neault said she found to be a pleasant surprise.

"I never had any expectation of somebody wanting to stay in Carberry. I was offering them a safe place when they got here, a place to get their bearings, and find out what happens next. They’ve been so happy, they’ve stayed."

Don Walmsley works closely with refugees and immigrants as executive director of Neepawa and Area Immigrant Settlement Services (NAISS). He said his organization is helping Ukrainian families with a number of things, including English as a Second Language training thanks to Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada, which has allowed NAISS to make their services available to Ukrainian people for a limited period of time.

"Programs like English language, employment services, settlement services and the Settlement Workers in Schools program are all eligible services that we can provide."

Walmsley said NAISS engages with Ukrainian newcomers in the same way they do with all others that they work with, from intake, needs assessments to creating a settlement plan for individuals and families.

"This would determine what particular services the newcomer may require. Some will be accessed quickly, but some may need to be developed. I can take some time, but initial areas of concern would be housing, employment, important documents [and] applications to certain government-related programs."

Walmsley said it’s possible the slower pace of life in a rural setting makes for a good fit for people fleeing highly traumatic situations.

"If you have ever lived in a rural community in Manitoba, you will find they can be very welcoming and generally accepting."

Hartney United Church in Hartney, 80 kilometres southwest of Brandon, recently held a fundraiser that raised more than $2,000 for Ukrainian refugees. In an email to the Sun, Don Clarke said he got involved in helping the families because he felt connected to them through his own Ukrainian heritage.

"They say blood is thicker than water, which has caused my personal desire to become involved in … this extremely resilient, proud group of mankind, regardless of how big or small the outcome."

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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