‘We’re on a rollercoaster’: Ukrainian Canadian Congress navigates influx of refugees

Many Ukrainians seeking refuge in Manitoba are stopping by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress’s Main Street office in Winnipeg to pick out donated clothes, food and other supplies in a basement that’s bursting at the seams.

But the organization that’s taken on fundraising and resettlement efforts for incoming refugees is feeling the weight of unanswered questions, as a plane carrying about 300 Ukrainians is slated to land in the city on May 23.

It’s unclear how many will stay in the province or move on to Alberta or Saskatchewan, Manitoba’s UCC president Joanne Lewandoski said Wednesday.

Read more: Ottawa chartering 3 flights for Ukrainian refugees over next month

The UCC also doesn’t know how many will stay with local family and friends, and the uncertainty and workload are taking their toll.

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“We’re on a rollercoaster that’s accelerating, and we can’t get off,” Lewandoski told Global News.

UCC was notified just days ago Winnipeg was one of three destinations the federal government had selected to welcome a charter plane, she said.

Housing could be an issue as UCC navigates low vacancy rates and works with governments to vet host families, Lewandoski said.

Almost 700 Manitoba households put their names forward to welcome those fleeing the war when it broke out, she said. Ottawa was to assist in the vetting process, which is similar to the country’s foster care program, Lewandoski continued.

Facilities have to be checked. Hosts must pass criminal record and child abuse checks.

“Right now, everything is up in the air, and we’re in a little bit of a panic because we need to make sure these people are coming,” Lewandoski said.

Families not only need a roof over their heads but also education and daycare, jobs and mental health services — and Ukrainian bilingual school programs are part of the plan.

Read more: Lots of work to be done before Ukrainian refugees arrive in Manitoba, UCC says

Two refugee children are already enrolled at Winnipeg’s Ralph Brown School, and more are expected soon.

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Both kids have been resilient and are settling in nicely, acting principal Trevor Macvicar said.

“They’re at beginning stages of Ukrainian learning at this age, Grade 1. However, the connection is there, right? We have the universal language of just pointing, showing and experiencing things together,” Macvicar said.

Meanwhile, as Lewandoski and her team of volunteers wait for the flight to arrive, they say the local community has truly stepped up.

“(Manitobans have) opened their hearts, their wallets, and now they’re going to be opening their doors.”

— with files from Michelle Karlenzig

More to come …

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300 Ukrainian refugees to arrive in Manitoba next week: province

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