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Faith group airlifts displaced Ukrainians to Canada to unite with relatives

Written by Ali Raza

Twenty-eight displaced Ukrainians arrived at Toronto Pearson International Airport today through the efforts of Samaritan’s Purse Canada.

The Christian international disaster relief group organized transport for displaced Ukrainians in Warsaw, Poland. Now in Canada, the families will stay with relatives and friends on temporary work visas that are valid for three years.

“We were made aware that there were people who had family in Canada, but didn’t have a way to get here,” said Samaritan’s Purse Canada spokesperson Frank King. “These were refugees who got out of Ukraine, and needed to get to Canada to be with relatives.”

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, several million Ukrainians have been displaced and have fled to neighbouring countries, including Poland. Canada is among several countries in the West making efforts to resettle Ukrainians, with the help of organizations like Samaritan’s Purse.

Samaritan’s Purse, which owns a Douglas DC-8 aircraft, first airlifted 18 tonnes of emergency relief supplies to Warsaw, Poland to truck into Ukraine. The return flight provided transportation for 28 Ukrainians who arrived at Pearson airport’s Signature Flight Terminal on Sunday afternoon. They will stay with relatives in Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, and other cities across the country.

The organization has airlifted 300 tonnes of relief supplies on 13 airlift missions since the start of the conflict.

As Ukrainians disembarked to meet their relatives, they told CBC News of their experiences.

“It was quite a great journey,” said Irina Lobada. “Under such circumstances, it’s a very negative situation in Ukraine. But we’re here in a safe place and glad to be here.”

Olha Koval arrived with her husband Roman and three sons Oleh, Daras and Yurii.

“We are very happy and calm because it’s a difficult situation in Ukraine, but here we feel safe,” she told CBC News.

Koval and her family left Ukraine in March near the beginning of the war. They fled to Poland and spent two months preparing visas and documents to meet their relatives here in Canada. She’s not sure how long the family will stay.

“We plan to work here, stay here, depending on the situation in Ukraine, but it’s difficult to say,” Kovar said.

Ivan Jaworsky, a retired professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, who has travelled frequently to Ukraine and has roots there, said the arrival of these 28 people is part of a “trickle of people” coming in the last few weeks.

He says he’s grateful for the level of support Canadians are offering Ukrainian people, and says it’s important to be mindful of the trauma they’ve experienced because of the war.

“Some have husbands, other relatives who are staying behind, and they’re traumatized, of course, because of concern for these relatives,” Jaworsky said.  “Those receiving them or those helping them have to understand that these are people coming with a lot of baggage, not only physical baggage, but mental baggage as well.”

Volodymyr Rudskyy and his family came from the railway station in Warsaw, where there was a large group of displaced Ukrainians seeking refuge. Now, they’ll stay with relatives in Toronto.

“We couldn’t believe it could happen,” he said. “Wonderful to understand that the kids are safe, but there’s a big concern about what’s ahead of us, but we’ll try to succeed.”

Anna Baianko, who used to live near Kharkiv, Ukraine, one of several cities Russian forces bombed, said the loss of her home was painful. She’ll stay with family in Regina, Sask.

“It was bombs near our city, coming through, every day we had alarms, rockets, it’s a dangerous situation in Ukraine now,” she said.

with files from Paula Duhatschuk

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