Hundreds of people attended a Father’s Day charitable concert in Calgary designed to welcome Ukrainian refugees and thank the people who have been helping them. It was held on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church.
Marina Stetsiuk was at the event. The 24-year-old arrived in Calgary two weeks ago on her own after fleeing the war in Ukraine.
“It’s a bit overwhelming, especially the last week since I moved to an apartment by myself. I feel lonely,” said Stetsiuk who is an English teacher in Kyiv.
She’s thankful for the generosity and support of her host family and said Calgarians have been very welcoming. However, Stetsiuk said she was devastated to find out on Saturday that a friend she used to teach with was killed. He was 22 years old and volunteering in the army. She said her friend was planning to finish his master’s degree after the war.
“I have been crying for hours now. I have no tears anymore,” she said. “Every time I think it’s my colleague because we worked together with the kids. He’s so young. I can’t believe it.”
Stetsiuk was one of many newcomers at the event on Sunday. Like others there, she felt discouraged by recent comments from NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, saying “we need to be prepared for the war to last for years.”
“Many of the Ukrainians that we are speaking with are not planning on returning. Their homes are destroyed and their cities are gone,” said the vice-president of vulnerable populations at the Centre for Newcomers Kelly Ernst.
Ernst said Canada needs to be prepared for many Ukrainians who want to stay permanently.
“They are not considered to be refugees. They’re considered to be temporary arrivals. So from the government end, to be here for a temporary phase until things get better and they can go back, but it’s a real mismatch between what we are hearing with the arrivals that are already here,” Ernst said.
“It’s not a permanent solution for them to be going back to the Ukraine.”
Larysa Taranenko lives in Calgary. She was at the church with her 10-year-old granddaughter Anastasiia. Anastasiia and her 14-year-old brother are now living with her after leaving Ukraine. They arrived here in April along with Taranenko’s daughter. The 10-year-old misses her father who she had to leave behind.
“Today is Father’s Day so she called him,” Taranenko said. “It’s difficult for everybody. Life has changed for everybody in our family but we try to survive.”
She said her daughter and grandchildren want to go back home but the plan is for them to stay until the war is over.
“They want to see their father. They are planning every day to go home,” Taranenko said. “Kids must have a father — it’s very important for them.”
She added that her daughter has already found a job in Calgary but also wants to return to Ukraine to be with her husband.
Stetsiuk said she wants to go home but doesn’t know if her home will still be there.
“The cities are destroyed and the houses. It’s very hard to make plans further than a month,” Stetsiuk said. “When the war is over I would love to go back to see my friends.”
Canada’s current program marks a major departure from the typical refugee policy. It allows an unlimited number of approved Ukrainians to find refuge from Russian aggression in Canada for three years while they decide their next steps.
“For now I am doing my best here trying to help my family who’s left in Ukraine, and my friends also by donating. But what will be in a month or two or three, I don’t know,” Stetsiuk said.
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