More host homes needed for arriving Ukrainian families

Sarnia’s Andrew and Christine Sydorko, with daughters Charlotte, 6, and Maggie, 8, right, display the Ukraine flag during a prayer vigil and rally in St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church on Feb. 27. George Mathewson

Cathy Dobson

Deb and Peter Osmond know very little about the Ukrainian family arriving this week to live at their Corunna home.

They are expecting Igor Marhalevich, his pregnant wife Olya and their 10-year-old son, also named Igor, says Deb Osmond.

They left Ukraine shortly after the Russians invaded in February and have been waiting in Austria for a more permanent situation in Canada.

“They couldn’t return to Ukraine,” said Osmond who is a social worker at Lambton Elderly Outreach. “That is about all I know, but Olga comes across as very laid back and very happy they’re coming.

“We don’t know much about one another but we’re trusting it will work out.”

The Osmonds are the latest local family to welcome Ukrainians into their home, and have committed to help them for the next year.

“We’re very excited,” she said. “The baby is due at the end of June and when I put it out there that some baby things were needed, we received a room full of baby stuff for them.

“It makes me cry thinking about the baby. It really is a blessing.”

Sarnians are stepping up to help in many ways but more host families are needed, says Dr. Cassandra Taylor, who is voluntarily co-ordinating many of the matches.

Local churches, MP Marilyn Gladu’s office, and a legion of volunteers with Taylor are making it possible to bring as many as 100 or more Ukrainians to Sarnia over the next several weeks.

Their needs are varied, but communicating and language barriers are a priority, says Kevin Smith, whose family was one of the first to welcome a Ukrainian family on April 27.

“Hosting is so rewarding. It’s wonderful to have this family in our house,” Smith told a town hall meeting facilitated by Gladu’s office last week.

Smith’s three children are making friends with the two Ukrainian children, and the adults are relying heavily on phone translation apps to communicate, he said.

“We were scared at first but the first week has been amazing,” he said. “What our community needs right now is to pool our efforts. This is an emergency situation and the government has been quite slow.”

The federal government is providing three-year work permits to Ukrainians arriving in Canada. The Ontario government has waived a three-month waiting period for free health care, is offering immediate and free access to elementary and secondary school, and will recognize professional credentials.

That’s something no other province has agreed to do, MPP Bob Bailey said at the town hall.

But the free flights promised by the federal government to bring Ukrainians have not materialized, said Gladu. Some refugees are able to pay their own way and those who can’t are relying on donations.

More than $25,000 has been raised so far, said Taylor.  And more fundraisers are planned. A single plane ticket to Canada can cost $1,300 or more.

The good news is that once they arrive the community has rallied to provide as much as possible. Donations of household goods and clothing are pouring in, food is being prepared, volunteer drivers are helping until Ontario licences tests can be arranged, and English classes are available.

Local residents are thinking outside the box to make the adjustment easier for the newcomers. For instance, Lisa Matlovich is working with Sarnia Police officers repairing unclaimed bicycles for donation. During the town hall, several women offered babysitting services while parents job search. A Facebook page set up by Taylor called “Save Ukraine – Sarnia and Lambton County,” has a job board with dozens of postings from local employers.

“But housing remains one of our biggest challenges, particularly for larger families,” said Taylor. “The Ukrainians are not classified as refugees so they don’t qualify for housing supports,” she said.

Instead, they’re coming with visitor emergency visas that allow them to stay up to three years before applying for permanent status.

Families living in emergency shelter in Poland are waiting up to six weeks for federal clearance to come to Canada, but that process is speeding up, Gladu said.

The Sarnia-Lambton Local Immigration Partnership has prepared a comprehensive booklet for Ukrainians and local residents who want to help bring them here. It can be found at:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jZArH6WLfbN-8Mh67Vdx_soUXTQH-jHKN9iuaAs3li8/edit

CONTACTS TO DONATE OR HOST

  • Bethel Pentecostal Church, 519-542-7731
  • St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, 519-542-9903
  • E-transfer to Dr. Taylor at saveukrainesarnia@gmail.com (no receipt)
  • MP Marilyn Gladu’s office at 519-330-1788 is tracking offers to volunteer or host and staff helping with paperwork. But donations cannot be accepted. Ask for Carolyn Kennedy.
  • Visit “Save Ukraine – Sarnia and Lambton County” on Facebook to stay up-to-date on the local effort.