A planned Chilliwack Progress interview with three Ukrainians who arrived in Chilliwack recently was pushed back a couple of times because one of them already had a job interview.
Alex Kravchuk arrived in Chilliwack on April 13 with his wife Raya and their friend Yana Kasianchyk.
The three, who are in their late 20s, could have headed somewhere closer to home, say Poland or Bulgaria. But they don’t speak Polish or Bulgarian. They speak English.
On top of that, the Ukrainians flooding over the western border to escape the Russian invasion are, for the most part, living as refugees in other countries.
Canada, on the other hand, created a program to fast track emergency travel for Ukrainians. Part of the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET) program allows them to stay in Canada for three years (as opposed to the normal six-month limit), and also includes the option to apply, free of charge, for an open work permit.
“We wouldn’t have come if it was not possible to work,” Alex said during an interview at Tamiko and Ernie Charlton’s home in Rosedale. “We want to be able to help our parents. A lot of people want to wait out the war. We didn’t want to be part of a refugee program.”
Alex said he has a friend in Poland who is living like a refugee, something these three wanted to avoid.
“If we can work, we want to work,” Yana said.
By April 21, the United Nations estimated that more than five million people had left Ukraine, with 2.8 million of them in Poland. Thousands of Ukrainians are taking advantage of the CUAET program to come to a country with the second highest number of people of Ukrainian descent outside of Ukraine.
A number of Facebook groups were created, or changed, to focus on pairing up Ukrainian families, couples or individuals with families locally. On the “Canada – Host Ukrainians” page, Ukrainians post what they are looking for and where in Canada and Canadians are responding.
More local is a public group, Chilliwack Emergency Host Families, that transitioned from mid-November connecting Fraser Valley flood victims with assistance to helping Ukrainians.
It was a post like this by Alex, Raya and Yana that was seen by Tamiko Charlton of Chilliwack, and she got in touch. Since the three of them arrived on April 13, Tamiko has helped them settle, get documents and bank accounts in order, and of course give them a place to stay.
“Tamiko and her family make it very easy,” Raya said of the shock of moving to another country.
“People have been so nice. Canadians are so nice.”
The three actually weren’t in Ukraine when the Russians invaded. They had gone to Turkey earlier in the year, across the Black Sea, where they paid close attention to the news of Russia’s troop buildup.
Despite the Russian military amassing on the border, the three said that most Ukrainians didn’t think Vladimir Putin would actually do what he has done.
“Not many people believed it would happen,” Alex said. “People thought at worst they might come to Kyiv and then go back.”
As to why Alex, a 27-year-old male, was not in Ukraine fighting as all 18-to-60-year-olds have been ordered, he said he has a metal plate in his arm that exempts him from military service.
Alex works in IT (information technology), and Raya and Yana are photographers.
“Their portfolio is amazing,” Tamiko said. “I’ve encouraged them to try to do photography rather than search for a job just to earn money.”
But whatever job they can find, the three want to work to do their part to help send funds home to families left behind.
“Our president (Volodymyr Zelensky) said, ‘if you can work, you should work and everybody who can fight, should fight,” Yana said.
Asked about what their long-term plans are, Raya recognized the uncertainty that surround the situation in Eastern Europe right now.
“I think we learned not to plan,” Yana said. “We just live for today and we plan to get jobs.”
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