166 Ukrainian refugees arrive in St. John’s, NL from Poland

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ST. JOHN’S, NL –

Nine-year-old Zoriana had barely turned the corner from St. John’s International Airport on Monday night when she saw her big sister Sofiia Shapoval waiting in the crowd and ran straight for her outstretched arms.

Zoriana and her mother, Natalia, were among 166 Ukrainian refugees who had just arrived in Newfoundland on a plane chartered by the provincial government. Shapoval is a genetics student at Memorial University in St. John’s, and she said it was a huge relief to have her family close by in Canada, after months of fear and uncertainty.

“It’s so good,” Shapoval said. “You don’t know where your family is or how you can help them, because they are on the other side of the world.”

The plane arrived Monday evening from Poland, where the Newfoundland and Labrador government has set up a satellite office to help Ukrainians fleeing Russian attacks on their homeland resettle in the easternmost province. east of Canada. The people who work there distributed leaflets, met Ukrainians and helped them to put their papers in order. They chartered two buses to carry the 166 passengers on Monday’s flight from Warsaw to Katowice airport, about 300 kilometers away.

Immigration Minister Gerry Byrne and Prime Minister Andrew Furey were beaming Monday night as they shook hands with Ukrainians walking through the gates flanked by the country’s blue and yellow flags.

A crowd of a few dozen people erupted in shouts and applause each time one crossed the entrance closed by curtains. People waved Ukrainian flags and held up welcome signs written in English and Ukrainian. Shapoval, his mother and sister stood to the side, hugging each other tightly and holding their phones to take selfies, their smiles wide and happy.

The provincial government did not specify the landing time of the flight, so the welcome was not too overwhelming for the travel-weary refugees.

Byrne says Monday night’s flight is the first government-chartered aircraft to bring Ukrainian refugees to Canada. Newfoundland and Labrador’s successful efforts to transport and welcome refugees – from the office in Warsaw to the generous residents on the ground offering whatever they can – are now the “gold standard” for others to follow. provinces and countries, he said in an interview earlier Monday.

Stanislav, a tall 28-year-old Ukrainian, was one of the first out of the flight. He smiled and laughed, and told reporters to call him Stan. The engineer said he was heading to the small town of Baie Verte, about 600 kilometers from St. John’s, where there are jobs in the local mining industry.

“I worry a lot about my father, who is an officer now,” he said. “None of my family is in occupied territory, but of course… everyone is worried that tomorrow the Russians will (provoke) violence.”

Marjorie Williams was in the crowd holding a brightly colored welcome sign. She had been waiting to meet a woman who would live in her apartment, after the two met through a local Facebook group aimed at matching Ukrainians coming to Newfoundland with locals offering housing, supplies and jobs.

“I’m so excited,” Williams said. “Today I was like, ‘I think I might be a little crazy, but…why not?’

Everyone who got off the plane in St. John’s on Monday night had a place to stay, whether through volunteers like Williams or more formal efforts like those spearheaded by the province’s Association for New Canadians. .

“It’s a big deal right now, it’s unbelievable,” said association executive director Megan Morris, who was at the airport to help coordinate a team of volunteers who had a school bus waiting. to take the refugees where they needed to be. to go.

There was a massive effort to support the government’s initiative to bring Ukrainians to the province, she said, but many of those involved already had experience – last October the province hosted more than 100 refugees from Afghanistan, for whom Morris’ team helped coordinate travel, supplies and where to stay.

Adilya Dragan also volunteered behind the scenes, collecting boxes of clothes, shoes, toiletries and even dishes for everyone on the plane. The 32-year-old Russian lives just outside St. John’s and hosts a Facebook group for Newfoundlanders who want to help Ukrainians.

Several rooms in her house are overrun with piles of donated supplies, and she has set up public drop-off sites where other things await her, Dragan said in a recent interview.

“People are great here,” she said. “I love Newfoundlanders, they are great people. You won’t find these people anywhere else in the world.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 9, 2022.


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