Ukrainian refugees helping newer arrivals settle in Greater Victoria

Ukrainian refugees are stepping up to help newcomers in greater Victoria.

Help Ukraine Vancouver Island’s general manager, Karmen McNamara, who runs the host search and food share program, recently secured funding to hire a refugee to run the food share program.

It turns out that most of the volunteers helping out at the weekly events are former refugees.

“We found that as people reach their maximum donation amount, donations taper off,” McNamara said. “That’s where we have to get creative in getting donations.”

Initially the program worked by distributing grocery cards, but the cost was prohibitive. Partnering with Food Network in the Capital Region makes getting food cheaper and easier.

The network works with businesses to provide refugees with meat, dairy, canned goods and agricultural products such as bread or cakes. Businesses often come forward—McNamara recently noted that they received 100 pounds of coffee from a local roaster.

At the most recent event on Monday (April 10) at the Metchosin community hall, about 30 Ukrainian families (approximately 90 to 100 people) received food through the program each week. Events are held throughout greater Victoria and the Middle Island, feeding approximately 300 families each week.

Launched last fall, the program helps families navigate the challenging first few months of arrival. Families who live with host families typically stay for about three months before finding their own place, McNamara said, and continue to use the food program for an average of three months thereafter. But around the six-month mark, McNamara said people generally do well on their own, and in some cases come back to volunteer and help newcomers.

“The other thing that really struck me was how important it was for these people to become independent. They really valued being able to take care of their family and move towards self-sustainment. So I think anything we can provide is really important to help them make it happen.”

This schedule varies.

Some single-parent families often struggle to establish themselves in Canada and face the added challenge of finding child care, in addition to housing, employment and food. About a third of the families Help Ukraine VI works with are in this situation. The families are usually from western Ukraine, while the families whose fathers were able to leave are from the Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine.

“Those who are in the occupied areas, places like Kharkov, Kherson, Donetsk, etc., can’t actually get to Ukraine without getting killed,” McNamara said. “There’s no way they’re going to escape the occupied territory, towards Ukraine — they’re going to be shot. So these people escape the occupied territory by going to Russia or Turkey, and from there, the families usually end up in Canada or the United States”

According to McNamara, families who take this route often end up in Canada, and in countries like Poland, fathers are increasingly leaving behind families.

“Given the limitations of who we work with, and the fact that Ukrainians don’t have refugee support, and we’re a grassroots organization that operates on community donations — our goal is to get people to self-sufficiency as quickly as possible.”

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Mechosin District Mechosin West Bank

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