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Comox Valley Ukrainian Cultural Society meeting the needs of newcomers

Comox Valley Ukrainian families enjoyed a summer picnic at Tee Pee Park Campground. Photo via Facebook

By Eugene Hrushowy

Special to the Record

In February or March of 2022, if you had spoken with a member of the Comox Valley Ukrainian Cultural Society (CVUCS) about Ukrainian newcomers, they would have had more questions than answers: Who were these newcomers? What were their ages, genders and backgrounds? Where were they: in transit, in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto? When would they arrive? Did they have a place to live when they arrived? Who would greet them? What were their needs? could they work, and if so, at what type of job? Were children involved and were they school-age?

You might say that trying to get at these answers was like trying to play a game of darts in a darkened room.

The CVUCS began 42 years ago as a means of preserving practices and traditions and cultural interests of Ukrainian descendants living in British Columbia. Ukrainians started their journey towards Canadian citizenship in four separate waves starting in the early 1890s. In February 2022 membership in the CVUCS, due to aging and the natural consequence of the enculturation process, had diminished to 14 members. Membership today has swelled by almost 400 per cent to 55. It is not necessary to be a Ukrainian descendant to join. CVUCS as a totally volunteer-based society, has become a good example of inclusion.

The initial response of the society to the Russian invasion was to pivot from being a purely cultural association to supporting Ukrainian newcomers fleeing the illegal war. It was soon evident that what was required was a needs assessment in order to form an action plan. Six CVUCS members formed an ad hoc group named the Committee Funding Ukrainian Survivors (CFUS). Its mandate is to support the needs of Ukrainians arriving in the Comox Valley. CFUS members pooled their areas of expertise and began the process of fundraising. The community, in the form of local governments, service groups, churches and regular folks stepped forward to host families, provide rides, clothing, jobs, cash and much more.

The Refugee Readiness Network, funded by the provincial government, provided a one-time grant to hire a part-time Ukrainian integration co-ordinator, Oksana Moisieieva, who fled with her family in the initial wave of the war. She is fluent in English, Ukrainian and Russian. She has formed a crucial link which enabled CFUS to locate and support incoming arrivals. She provides a level of trust and communication which is invaluable in the challenging process of settling in the Comox Valley.

Over the last 17 months, CFUS has initiated the following supports with the assistance of an army of caring, compassionate volunteers:

• Welcome baskets of personal and household items as well as coupons for food items and clothing;

• The creation of a bilingual settlement guide to assist newcomers and host families in the process of accessing Canadian services in an orderly fashion;

• The provision of financial assistance for items not covered by government funding such as emergency childcare, medical and dental expenses;

• Ensuring food security in partnership with Christ the King Catholic Church;

• The creation of conversational English classes to complement formal English classes offered by the Immigrant Welcome Centre, and;

• The offering of two, two-week summer day camps, for 30 Ukrainian children and teens in conjunction with funding from the United Way.

The Russian war of aggression has displaced millions of Ukrainians. The Canadian Government response under the Canadian-Ukrainian Authorization for Emergency Travel Visa (CUAET) has received over 1,000,000 applications and 775,532 visas have been approved. As of June 2023, only 162,568 or less than 20per cent of the people with an approved visa have been able to travel to Canada. How many more will come to Canada and when? No one can say with any certainty.

New arrivals from Ukraine have exceeded 1,000 on Vancouver Island and new survivors are continuing to arrive. The Comox Valley is currently supporting more than 170 individual Ukrainian newcomers comprising at least 65 families who are in various phases of settling. We are expecting more. And needs continue to change as these new arrivals adjust to their new homeland.

CVUCS still needs the generous assistance from the community. To that end, two fundraising concerts, Still Standing With Ukraine have been scheduled for the Comox Valley on Sept. 21 at the Sid Williams Theatre and in Campbell River on Sept. 23 at the Tidemark Theatre. The CVUCS has partnered with the Ukraine Nightingale Project to feature the Calgary-based Tryzub Ukrainian Dance Troupe. For more information and for tickets information to attend an evening of high energy-talented entertainment, please go to: