Westman Immigrant Services and the Brandon-based Canadian Ukrainian Association group Tryzub are collaborating to ensure Ukrainian arrivals have the support and information they need once they land in the community.
A newly created hub on the WIS website will be continually updated with information on available refugee supports and resources along with ways community members can provide humanitarian aid, said community outreach manager Hannah Holt. The goal was to create a centralized and trustworthy place for those looking to find out settlement information for displaced Ukrainians coming to Westman.
"If you do have Ukrainians arriving to come and stay with you get in touch with us, this is what we do day in and day out," Holt said. "Don’t feel like you have to take it all on … we’re here to help."
Tryzub has a list of 28 families destined to arrive in Brandon, including three families that have already begun to settle.
The situation is ever-evolving, Holt said, and requires the ability to be reactive and adaptable. As Ukrainians begin to arrive, WIS will adapt and change services as needed in collaboration with Tryzub. WIS will be taking the lead on direct services, and Tryzub will be looking after housing and potential physical donations.
"I think generally we all know they are refugees. They’ve had to leave their home because of the war. To get them here quicker, that’s why they’re saying arrivals and that’s why they’ve created these temporary resident visas, work permits, et cetera," Holt said. "We don’t know until they are here and we establish what they need … it is changing daily because we are trying to respond to needs in real time."
WIS is equipped to deal with the needs of newcomers and refugees because the organization provides support and resources to newcomers every day, Holt said. The organization helps thousands of newcomers each year.
A special fund has been set up on the WIS website for those looking to help those settling in Westman and provide humanitarian funds. Donations can receive a tax receipt and can be targeted to different communities including Russell, Virden, Cartwright or Brandon arrivals.
The WIS Ukrainian website, which is available in multiple languages, will also include how to connect with Tryzub to provide housing for new arrivals, along with links to key government websites.
"Generally speaking, what we are trying to do is have our WIS webpage be the hub for all the information. It’s got all the information about the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel [CUAT] visa, IRCC measures, it’s got information for people in Canada about sponsorship, emergency contact information and then also the direct services — what we will provide and any additional supports," Holt said. "People know they can go to our website and find the answer."
The creation of CUAT has been an incredible opportunity to aid those affected by the Russian invasion, Holt said, but there is still a need to work with Tryzub because it presents a new stream of newcomers in the community.
WIS typically aids refugees through the IRCC refugee assistance program, which informs the organization when newcomers will be arriving in Brandon. CUAT is unique because WIS will not be informed when arrivals get to Manitoba.
"We have to heavily count on word of mouth and friends and family because it’s a totally different stream altogether. They’re not coming over as government-sponsored. They’re coming over on a visitor visa, a work permit or a study permit," Holt said.
CUAT has helped expedited Ukrainian applications. Ukrainians can apply to come to Canada under a special visitor visa program that would allow them to work and study for three years while they decide whether to return home. As of March 30, approximately 60,000 Ukrainians have applied to come to Canada under that program, and another 12,000 have come under traditional immigration streams since January.
Tryzub began meeting with WIS in early April, said member Julia Krykavska. The partnership has helped create a plan to care for those who arrive in the community.
"We have a good partnership, communication between the two of us," Krykavska said. "We’re very thankful for them to be so open and willing to help and support."
WIS will help ensure the services the organization provides is available to Brandon’s Ukrainian arrivals. Tryzub will be working to communicate with new arrivals to ensure they are directed to available resources.
She praised WIS for creating a special website to ensure ease of access for Ukrainian newcomers looking for information including housing, employment and community connections when they arrive.
Fundraising through WIS remains imperative.
"We will be directing that money to the people in need," Krykavska said. "A lot of people don’t even understand how hard it is to leave everything behind, everything that you had that you were 100 per cent happy with, and then you have to come here empty-handed and then start everything all over again."
Some Ukrainian newcomers will come with connections to family or friends, but others will be setting foot on Canadian soil in Manitoba with no connections to speak of — this makes robust support and resources essential, she said.
"We’re incredibly happy to be living in such a great community like Brandon and Westman area, with people who have open hearts and are willing to support and donate," Krykavska said.
Visit the WIS website at westmanimmigrantservices.ca/ukraine/ for more information on support for new Ukrainians in the community.
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun