Manitobans ready to open door to Ukrainian refugees


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Sarah Foers isn’t Ukrainian, but she’s one at heart.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/03/2022 (446 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Sarah Foers isn’t Ukrainian, but she’s one at heart.

Growing up in the Interlake, she spent more time at her Ukrainian friends’ homes than she did her own.

As she has watched the news about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she couldn’t figure out how she could help Ukraine and give back to a culture and community that had deeply enriched her life.

Sarah Foers is one of 700 Manitobans to offer a place for refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine since the local chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress congress put out a call for help last week. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

After hearing that the local chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress was looking for Manitobans to host Ukrainian refugees, the mother of two didn’t hesitate.

“I didn’t know what I could do as an individual, but I have a five-bedroom house and there’s only three of us living in it, and we definitely have the space,” she told the Free Press Wednesday. “I felt like this is something I could do to help.”

She is one of 700 Manitobans to offer a place for refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine since the congress put out the call for help last week.

Dmytro Malyk, a board member of the congress hadn’t expected such a huge response.

“People are ready to help. What we see in those responses, people are willing to share their basements. Some people probably don’t have enough space for themselves, but they are ready to accept a family, they are ready to share their house with somebody else,” he said Wednesday. “That’s just amazing, and I’m so moved.”

They decided to pause registration on Sunday to give the group a chance to vet those who have signed up and reach out to selected hosts. They still don’t know how many Ukrainians will arrive in Manitoba. Last week, federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced Canada planned to accept an “unlimited” number of Ukrainians who want to leave. Malyk said while it’s likely many Ukrainians will end up in other provinces, Manitoba is a perfect fit to host many of them.

“There is a good chance that there (are) Ukrainians who don’t speak English, and for some of them, this might be kind of that first foreign country that they’ve ever been to,” he said. “Having Ukrainians in Manitoba, you know, let’s start over here.”

Although she missed the three-day window to get her name in, Julia Fleming is eager to host Ukrainians.

She was born in Ukraine and immigrated to Canada in 1994, and much of her family still lives there, including a cousin who is in the military reserve and is waiting to fight.

“To me, it’s incredibly important to do something for my homeland,” she said.

Fleming speaks Russian and hopes she can help by bridging the possible language gap between refugees and Manitobans who are trying to help. She said she’ll keep donating and volunteering while working through the “shared grief” of trying to get by while Ukraine suffers.

“I’m just waiting to do what I can, a continent away,” she said.

In addition, Malyk said several rural municipalities had approached the organization to offer places to stay.

Gimli council voted unanimously in favour of offering a vacant 100-room dorm in that city’s industrial park for use by the congress.

CP Ukrainian refugees walk along the road between Lviv and Shehyni, in Volytsya, Ukraine on Saturday. Is it estimated more than two million people have been forced to flee the country so far. (Marc Sanye / The Associated Press files)

Mayor Lynn Greenberg said it was a no-brainer.

“It would be good, it’s going to take a big effort,” Greenberg said.

The building had been used as a cadet training centre, and while the municipality has plans to market the building soon, Greenberg said, hosting refugees would be a priority.

The city raised a Ukrainian flag behind its library in solidarity.

“I think a lot of people are quite upset at the needless war that’s going on. People are getting chased out of their homes and everything, it’s just not right,” he said. “We have we have a pretty large Ukrainian population here in the Gimli area.”

For now, Foers is preparing her home, and her two teenage sons, for the possibility of sudden guests.

She was initially surprised by the outpouring of support for refugees, but she realized helping out is second nature to many Manitobans.

“There’s this ‘all in this together’ sort of mentality, I don’t know if that’s our winters or what,” she joked.

“We help each other out, it’s the right thing to do. And looking back and reflecting, maybe it’s not that surprising. It’s a good surprise.”

Malak Abas

Malak Abas

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.


Updated on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 10:26 PM CST: Fixes typo.

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