It's been one year since a federal government-funded planeload of Ukrainian immigrants touched down in Winnipeg.
On May 23, 2022, Yaroslav Shkvyr says, he and his wife, Nataliya, and daughter along with about 100 others, were flown from Poland to Manitoba, thanks to the help of the Ukrainian Congress and the Canadian Embassy.
He tells their story.
“We were shocked when we saw how many people had come to meet us at the airport. Like, it was really a lot of people, like politicians and just regular people.”
Yaroslav remembers the first couple of days they stayed in a hotel in Winnipeg, just to get acclimatized to Manitoba. It was soon after their arrival that their group was invited to visit different communities in southern Manitoba to help decide where they might want to live.
One of the tours came to Steinbach.
“We had never heard about Steinbach until we met with a Chamber of Commerce representative, Anna, who welcomed us and we went for a ride on a big bus with about 60 seats.”
“On our tour of Steinbach, they showed us a lot of things, like schools, playgrounds, and those amazing things. Then they took us to the Heritage Village for a Ukrainian lunch. We were surprised. We didn't expect that. We didn’t know that we would be so welcomed here. Like, honestly, we were, like, shocked, like culture shocked and we were really, really surprised with that.”
Yaroslav notes, there were other communities that also hosted these bus tours. Early on in their time in Manitoba, they met a family from Stonewall who welcomed them and helped make their transition to Canada easier.
“And we learned that we're not alone here. This family just decided to invite us for Thanksgiving Day and for Christmas, and we were shocked and surprised by that. Like, our daughter was really surprised because she got a lot of presents and a lot of attention. She was really surprised by that."
Yaroslav remembers meeting Nataliia Reshetova, from the Ukrainian Settlement Taskforce and says she was a great help to many Ukrainian newcomers that day and the weeks and months that followed.
He also remembers how challenging it was when the time came for them to settle down and try and find a job and a home to live in.
“Like for everyone, I get it, we have to learn everything new, starting from the new page. It wasn't easy, but we did it. Now we're trying to combine 2 jobs and childcare, it’s been a challenge to make it work. But here we are, one year later.”
Yaroslav appreciates all the help they’ve received these past months.
“I have a lot of people to say thank you to. I’m working at Loewen (Windows). When we came there, they organized English classes for everyone, we were really surprised with that. I'm pretty sure we are all really thankful for that.”
Yaroslav already knew some English prior to coming to Canada as he’d been working with the Canadian Armed Forces from whom he has also received a lot of support.
“It’s hard to remember everyone who has helped us. Everyone has been really amazing. They're really amazing people who just help. They're trying to give us opportunities and they’re making sure that we're not alone and if we need something, just ask. We really didn't expect it, thank you for that.”
Other newcomers to the Steinbach area, also from Ukraine, share the same sentiments are Yaroslav.
Liudmyla (Mila) Losiak’s story has similarities to Yaroslav but is different because her husband and parents are still in Ukraine while she and her two daughters now live in Steinbach.
Mila says they had a lot of learning to do, from how to buy food, to driving a car in Canada, to setting up a cellphone account, and getting a phone number.
Mila shares why living in Canada is better for her.
“It's safe for my two daughters, and because my city has been attacked for eight months and safety is the most important thing for us for nowadays.” She notes that she speaks to her husband nearly every day.
Mila is grateful for her job as an Education Assistant and appreciates all the help and advice she has received over the past year.
“I've got this job due to good advice from so many different people. Canadians have such great hearts, thank you.”
Alina Sushko’s husband is also still in Ukraine while she lives in Steinbach with their two sons. She too, says, she does her best to connect with him every day but it’s difficult as he is in the military.
Alina notes that a challenge she had to overcome was finding a job before finding a place to live. But then needing a place to live before you can get a driver’s license, and then needing a place to live before you can get a bank account and medical card.
Alina works at “Trail Blazers” in Steinbach. She is grateful for the daycare her boys stay at while she is at work.
“My eldest son, says that it is the best place in the world and my younger son is starting to speak English, which is great because wherever they will go in the world, they speak English.”
Alina too, is very thankful to everyone who has helped her these past months.
“Thank you very much. This Canadian people help us a lot. Sam Fast, Nataliia, also Jack at the Church, the food bank, Eastman Immigrant Services, they helped a lot. Right now, they are helping me get a car. I have a stroller and I walk a lot, but it’s hard sometimes with all the bags. But for now, I will just wait. ”
LESIA HNATIUK and her daughter ADRIANA
Lesia Hnatiuk says she and her husband, and two daughters arrived in Steinbach about ten months ago. She says she was able to find work in Marchand and their family loves Canada.
Lesia is very thankful to Eastman Immigrant Services for their help with clothing, jobs, and emotional support. She says, Nataliia Reshetova, from the Ukrainian Settlement Task Force, was very encouraging, helping her through some tough moments when she wanted to give up. But Nataliia’s words “Don’t give up. Just be calm. Everything will go easier later”, helped her to relax and keep going.
Lesia says, learning how everything works in Canada has been hard because she didn’t understand the language. She is grateful to Nataliia who helped her find a job.
Lesia’s teenage daughter, Adriana shares that she likes Canadian schools because the classes are easier here. But she says their school in Ukraine was much smaller compared to the SRSS in Steinbach. Adriana hopes to pursue modeling after graduation and loves her math and science courses.
The newest immigrant of the group, Larysa Oher, and her husband and two sons have been in Canada for six months now and starting to settle in.
She says that “Canada is a country of immigrants. Here they don't look at you like a stranger. They understand when they hear your bad English. There are free English courses here. I have a job with a little bit of English. Here you can live and work peacefully”
Larysa continues, “I really wanted to thank our Ukrainian friends who volunteer here and facilitate for us newcomers. I want to say a very big thank you to Eleanor, she is my best English teacher. She teaches English for free at the MB church. Eleanor is a very beautiful woman. Eleanor is a teacher from God. She has this talent.”
Each of these people are very grateful for the help they received from Nataliia Reshetova of the Ukrainian Settlement Task Force, Eastman Immigrant Services, and many other local businesses and organizations. They each hope to be able to give back to "this generous community" in some way in the years to come.