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UKRAINIAN INITIATIVE

Over the last several months, the Community Liaison team has been working closely with a volunteer-led group called the Ukrainian Humanitarian Aid Committee of St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor which is supported by a collaborative of resettlement organizations, who are offering services to Ukrainian newcomers.  After hearing about the need for emergency food, the Community Liaison Team conducted a survey to understand food needs of Ukrainians arriving in Calgary to flee the conflict. As a result of the survey, and the apparent need for food support that it highlighted, the team immediately stepped into action, administering hamper intake and providing information on accessing food hampers. They have also been able to recommend and onboard Immigrant Services Calgary on to additional Calgary Food Bank programs and provide organizations such as the Immigrant Education Society with Food Grants so that they could provide snacks and meals during their Language Summer Camps for Ukrainian children.   

The process, both of understanding the situation and of implementing an initiative to respond to the challenges faced by Ukrainian newcomers has highlighted several areas for improvement, both in the immediate and long term. These areas concern how we engage proactively and meaningfully in emergent crisis situations, how we align with other organizations to react quickly and in coordination, and what ‘good’ response looks like. The initiative also highlighted the barriers that exist for all Food Bank users who do not speak English/speak English as a second language, and the accessibility issues that exist at the Calgary Food Bank. It has demonstrated the need for well thought-through work on improving language accessibility, and for a thorough examination of the barriers that exist for newcomers, with special attention to people who have had to flee a crisis.    

Looking forward, the Community Liaison team will be Initiating a project to improve accessibility to emergency food hampers for Ukrainian newcomers and building a blueprint for supporting crisis situations and non-English speaking Calgary Food Bank clients. To assist with some of these tasks a part-time, temporary staff person was added to the Community Liaison team, her name is Valeriia Marchuk. Her story gives insight into how events on the other side of the world have a ripple effect in our very own communities.    

 

Valeriia
Valeriia Marchuk

From new bride to refugee in a matter of weeks, this story of one Ukranian woman who was forced to flee her homeland and start a new life while supporting her fellow Ukrainians gives hope.  

In October of 2021 Valeriia was busy planning her wedding and honeymoon. Originally from Dnipro, Ukraine she and her partner, Anton moved to Kyiv to pursue their careers and enjoy all the benefits that big city living offers. In early 2022, their honeymoon in Africa was interrupted by news of impending war and so, Valeriia and Anton quickly discovered that returning to their homeland of Ukraine was not going to happen. They made urgent calls to family to forward important papers, and after weeks of waiting for due process, they eventually made their way to Canada. Valeriia’s sister and family had made the move 3 years prior, so she had the benefit of a familiar face greeting her and showing her the way, making the stressful situation nowhere near as hard as it is for so many. Valariia’s mom is still in Dnipro, she explains that many older adults do not want to leave their war-torn home country, “They have lived their whole lives there, they built their lives there, they decided to stay.” 

In mid-April 2022, Valeriia and Anton arrived in Waterloo, Ontario. Valeriia immediately took English classes to improve her skills and learned about volunteering; a concept foreign to her and her people; outside of the war effort. She was amazed that people give back in their own communities to make life better for others. In no time, she began to volunteer as well, in the warehouse of the Waterloo food bank. “I didn’t have a job, but lots of free time, this was a great opportunity to say thank you”. 

Valeriia at an apartment

The cost of living in Canada is considerably more than in Ukraine. The same size space to rent in Ukraine is $300/month; and in Calgary, it’s $1500/month; and yet, less expensive that Ontario, so with work available, they moved west and have settled in the southeast corner of Calgary. Valerria started to volunteer for the Calgary Food Bank in July and now works part-time supporting the Community Liaison team. Each Wednesday and Saturday she goes to the church and connects with fellow Ukrainians who have made their way to Calgary. 

Valeriia says she sometimes feels as though she is living in a movie; displaced from her home and family, she goes about her new life; taking English classes, volunteering to support others and hoping that the war will end so she can make plans for her life and see her mother again. Her home back in Kyiv is destroyed, and in October her uncle was just 300 meters away from a bombing and while he’s physically ok, emotionally, he is not. One of Valeriia’s biggest concerns is for the children in Ukraine. “Those that are staying there, with their children, it must be very difficult and emotionally quite bad for those little children.” Valeriia Marchuk’s entire life was upended due to the war and while it’s been difficult, she feels a sense of guilt because “my story isn’t special, there are so many others have it so much worse”. 

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada reports that more than 100,000 Ukrainian refugees have come to Canada, more than 12,000 of them settling in Calgary.

 

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