As the province of Manitoba prepares to receive a charter flight of Ukrainian refugees next week, volunteers on the ground say housing for the incoming residents is a lingering concern.
Ottawa announced that the first of three charter flights of Ukrainian refugees to Canada would be landing in Winnipeg next Monday.
“The process of trying to find them housing all at once is very daunting, and it’ll be a lot of work to try to find them places to stay,” said Ostap Skrypnyk of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Manitoba Provincial Council.
Skrypnyk said the provincial government is covering the cost for the refugees to stay at a hotel for as long as it takes for them to find appropriate housing. The challenge, he says, is “finding good accommodations … that are up to some standards” so refugees can be on their own as soon as possible.
The community has stepped up to assist with hosting, but Skrypnyk says it would be better for the refugees to have a self-contained unit.
“Lots of people volunteered to host in their homes, but that’s not ideal as well, because a room in a house is one thing. Having your own apartment or your own building is a whole different thing, right? It gives people independence,” he said.
The surge of new refugees will have to contend with the existing demand for housing across Manitoba.
According to a February report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, supply outpaced demand in Winnipeg by as many as 1,000 units.
Another outstanding wrinkle, which Skrypnyk says may affect the housing situation, is the kind of financial support the refugees will receive.
The refugees aboard the charter flight will come to Winnipeg under the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program.
Skrypnyk says despite the program being announced some time ago, “there’s a lot of question marks,” including “what kind of support that they’re going to be able to get in the first financial support in the first several months that they’re here.”
The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Winnipeg is $1,317, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation report.
All hands on deck
Volunteers are expected to play a significant role in welcoming and settling the Ukrainians.
Nick Krawetz, a volunteer with the UCC, says he’s confident things will be in place to welcome them.
“With these larger numbers coming, it’s gonna be all hands on deck, the next week and a half or so, and we are going to be ready,” Krawetz said.
Krawetz was standing in front of clothing, non-perishable food items, housewares, child items, and baby items, among other items donated by the public.
Volunteers will help greet families at the airport. Volunteers will also help with translation, among other things.
Krawetz says he thinks Winnipeg was chosen as the first destination to receive a charter flight of Ukrainian refugees because of the model in place in the province, starting with a welcome desk at the airport.
“Since we opened that desk on April 15, there have been 250-plus individuals,” Krawetz said.
He said the refugees are directed from there to the provincial government reception hub at the Best Western at 1715 Wellington Ave.
Krawetz described the arrangement as a “one-stop-shop” where the newcomers can sign up for health cards, get a social insurance number, and register for housing and child care, among other things.
Anyone who wants to donate goods or supplies can do so through the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Manitoba Provincial Council.
Feeling at home
Olaonipekun Shodiya and Oksana Kobysh-Shodiya and their two daughters, a six-year-old Hloriia and three-year-old Greis, browsed the items on display at the UCC on Wednesday to furnish their new apartment.
They say they fled Kyiv to Ireland in March. They then flew to Winnipeg via Toronto last month.
The Kobyshs say they had lived in Kyiv since 2014. They had just started their marriage, had two kids, and a business and Kobysh-Shodiya was a family doctor there.
Shodiya says they chose Manitoba because there is a large Ukrainian community, and they knew they could get help quickly. They reached out to volunteers in Toronto who found them a host family in Winnipeg.
“Ever since we came to their place, it has been very, very well. We are fully welcomed, and they have been helping us with documents and other items,” Shodiya said.
Shodiya says when they watch the news of what’s happening back home, any discomfort they have here is “nothing to write home about.”
Kobysh-Shodiya said she is looking forward to sorting out their documents and finding schools, jobs and language courses.
She said they also hope to “start to live and believe in the future.” They expressed gratitude to Canada and all those who donated.
“Ukraine is a beautiful country, but the salary that you have in Ukraine is not like a Canadian salary, for us to come to this country, we need a lot of money, so this little help is already a big help,” Kobysh-Shodiya said.