A blue and yellow charter bus rolled into Steinbach yesterday morning carrying 54 displaced Ukrainians who are considering making the city their new home.
The tour, organized in less than a week by the Steinbach Chamber of Commerce and Eastman Immigrant Services, was designed to showcase Steinbach’s amenities, job opportunities, and Eastern European heritage.
The all-ages group has been staying in a Winnipeg hotel since arriving on a special federally chartered flight from Poland on May 23. Their welcome packages included a brochure on Steinbach.
Mayor Earl Funk and a half-dozen community leaders greeted the group at Mennonite Heritage Village, the first stop on the tour.
"Thank you for coming out and seeing our city," Funk said with the aid of a translator. "It must be so hard to leave everything and come to a new country. We want to help you transition."
Chris Goertzen, who chairs a local Ukrainian settlement task force, said host families are standing by to welcome anyone who wants to settle in Steinbach temporarily or permanently.
"Steinbach has a long history of people coming from far away and making it their home," Goertzen said, "and so we have a real heart for what you’re going through in the last number of months."
Christine Beaumont, president of the chamber, said local employers have many vacancies to fill—over 450, according to Anna Mondor, Steinbach’s director of economic development, who helped organize the tour.
Michelle Bezditny, executive director of the chamber, explained the pandemic reduced the flow of skilled newcomers into Steinbach, while others in the workforce retired, changed careers, or entered university.
After the reception, the group was given a guided tour of the museum grounds. Interpreters highlighted the importance of Ukraine to the Mennonite story.
"We believe in our community and love to show it off," Gary Dyck, MHV’s executive director, said. "We know it’s a welcoming place and that’s what they need right now."
The bus then set off on a one-hour driving tour of a dozen major municipal, health, and business sites around Steinbach, including the Aquatic Centre, Eastman Education Centre, Steinbach Credit Union, Bausch Health, Barkman Concrete, Loewen Windows, and three schools.
At press time, the group was sitting down to a Ukrainian lunch. The afternoon was reserved for a job fair.
Dima Yatskov took the tour with his wife and two-year-old child. He said he wanted to see the employment and housing options available in Steinbach.
"I am doing this for my son, so he can have a bright, peaceful future," Yatskov said.
The 28-year-old grew up in Kamianets-Podilskyi, a city of 98,000 in western Ukraine. Trained in agriculture, he worked as a laboratory technician in a seed plant. In January, he took a job in Norway to earn more money and help his father with medical bills.
In March, his father died of COVID-19. Yatskov knew if he attended the funeral he would be conscripted into the Ukrainian military. His relatives told him to do what’s best for his family. When he heard Canada was fast-tracking Ukrainian visa applications, he applied.