Central Albertan push to offer refuge for Ukrainians

Heidi Baumbach. Submitted photo

Heidi Baumbach. Submitted photo

As Ukraine continues to battle invasion from Russian, Lacombe County resident Heidi Baumbach is endeavouring to welcome 14 Ukrainians to Lacombe.

Baumbach flew to Poland within the first 48 hours of learning about the war. While working with orphans in Ukraine, she met a group of three siblings and their children who are now days away from arriving in Canada.

The three families are expected to arrive within a month’s time. With males between 18 and 60 years of age required to stay home and fight, the families had to part with their husbands and fathers.

“It is a global crisis and you can very much see that everyone’s heart wants to help and it is so heartbreaking seeing that sentiment not reflected at the government level,” Baumbach said.

“What I am most proud of is how many central Albertans have responded to the crisis in Ukraine,” said Red Deer — Lacombe riding MP Blaine Calkins. “Conservatives have been constantly calling on the government to do the right thing. The Government of Canada needs to either rethink its policies or properly resource the issue so that these people are not displaced.”

Outside of Europe, Calkins said there is no country in the world with more people of Ukrainian heritage than Canada.

Calkins said the Conservatives have been calling for visa-free travel for Ukrainian passport holders even before the Russian invasion.

“The government is not able to or is unwilling to try and recognize the Ukrainians as refugees because they are not actually fleeing from their home country of Ukraine as they have moved into other countries in Europe. This is irrational,” Calkins said. “The government is making it a fairly laborious project for people to apply to the emergency access route.”

Through the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program, the government is offering a “temporary safe harbour … until it is safe to return to Ukraine,” with the ability to work and study while in Canada, states the Government of Canada website.

Baumbach said according to the Ukrainian culture, they are used to functioning as a multi-generational family unit.

A Lacombe house owner who was looking to sell the property instead considered renting it to the Ukrainian families at a decent cost.

“When I first started opening up for donations, I thought there would be housing support coming from the government. I thought the government would be paying for flights. Thanks to our private donors we have the budget to provide them with that,” Baumbach said. “I just think it is unfortunate that the public is having to do 100 per cent of the funding.”

Calkins criticized the immigration department’s rate of processing the applications.

“It’s not fair or reasonable to ask a country like Poland or others that are right on the border with Ukraine to bear this burden for an extended period. We have to do what we can,” Calkins said. “Our understanding from questioning the minister (of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship) Sean Fraser is the path to permanent residency if not available yet will become available.”

Baumbach hopes to support the families for about six months while they adjust and find jobs. She said the falling value of the Ukrainian currency is also leading to problems.

“It is crazy to see how much people want to help,” Baumbach said.

The community has been fundraising through several means including an orchestra and a bake sale by local students.

Sylvan Lake resident Onsy Tawadrous has also been helping fundraise and support Ukrainians affected by the war. In the past, he has sponsored four middle eastern refugee families to come to Sylvan Lake and hopes to create a similar opportunity for some Ukrainians as well.

“I’m pretty sure people are willing to offer the support, I have seen and experienced it,” Tawadrous said.

While he is working to do everything in his power to open Sylvan Lake’s doors to Ukrainian families, he strongly believes a federal program offering direct permanent residency to the refugees is missing.

Considering a situation where the individuals are unable to find a job due to language or cultural barriers, Tawadrous fears it will not only pose a difficult situation for the community but the families as well.

“Imagine a family that stays here just waiting for someone to donate food and clothing for years. After losing everything, they will be living their lives begging for food and clothing. It’s not right,” Tawadrous said.

Baumbach shared concerns around the availability of resources not just for the three families she is sponsoring, but several others on a visitor visa, who she says are often ending up in the streets of Edmonton and Calgary with no money and no place to go.

Anyone looking to support the three families coming to Lacombe can do so at www.givesendgo.com/ukranianrefugeefamily.

A Facebook group called CANADA – Host Ukrainians / Hébergeons les Ukrainiens helps connect Canadians willing to open their homes to a Ukrainian family, among other opportunities to support.


Members of the family coming to Lacombe. From left, Oleksii, Maria and Natalia Biglenko. Submitted photo

Members of the family coming to Lacombe. From left, Oleksii, Maria and Natalia Biglenko. Submitted photo

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