To prepare for the upcoming Prince Albert Exhibition, the Veselka Ukrainian Cultural and Heritage Club cleaned up their food and clay oven booth during a session on Tuesday evening.
The event not only provided Veselka members and other people in the Ukrainian diaspora in the community with an annual event to look forward to. It also gave members a chance to welcome Ukrainian newcomers who recently arrived in Prince Albert to escape the war in Ukraine, Veselka members and other people in the Ukrainian diaspora in the community together.
Veselka member Luci Wells, who came to Canada from Ukraine 19 years ago, has been helping newcomers get settled in Prince Albert. That includes inviting some into her home. She said the process of bringing Ukrainian refugees to Prince Albert has been difficult.
“People need to go through a paperwork process, which has been simplified, but it’s not easy,” she explained. “There are challenges finding flights and paying for flights. That’s another whole part of the story before you get here, and after you do get here, people do need somewhere to sleep, to eat, somebody to help them with paperwork, all of that stuff. A lot of it in Prince Albert is done by volunteers like me and like many, many others.”
Wells said some families are hosting up to five families in their homes. Even with so many people around, however, many newcomers feel lonely.
“They are out of the normal environment,” she explained. “Many of them have been through stress and many of them have really just nobody to talk to.”
Although the Ukrainian citizens who arrived in Prince Albert are fleeing a war, they aren’t being referred to as refugees. Instead, Wells said they prefer the term newcomer, since none of them have received refugee status.
The preferred term is newcomers as opposed to refugees.
“It is a different legal debate we are not part of,” Wells said. “They are escaping war, they are newcomers, and what we are trying to do in Veselka is to get them to meet Canadian people who understand the culture and speak English so they have somebody to practice with.
“Many of our Veselka members still speak a little bit of Ukrainian, so they somewhat can help.”
The Veselka members perform a number of duties. They take phone calls, help the new arrivals go places like the pharmacy or grocery store, and tell them where they can do laundry if there is no washing machine in the house.
“There are so many details that people who just come to a new country don’t know,” Wells explained.
Nataliia Kucherenko who has known Wells since childhood, and recently arrived in Prince Albert from Ukraine. She relies on Wells as a translator, and for help with other tasks like paperwork, flights, and visas. Kucherenko said she came to Canada to escape the war, but it wasn’t easy, especially considering how expensive flights were.
Now that she’s here in Canada, Kucherenko believes it’s vital for all Ukrainians to gather and support each other.
“It’s important for all of the Ukrainians to get together, to help to win the war, and to fight the enemy, but it is also important that the whole world is helping,” she explained. “We who came here, the newcomers, need to come and get together with people.
“The people that I met, not just newcomers, they have been really kind and open, very kind, open minded, really helpful and willing to accept people and meet people. (Newcomers) want to live longer here, spend more time and learn what does it mean to live in Prince Albert, find work and meet more people.
“Glory to Ukraine,” she concluded
Sviatoslav Stefurk arrived in Prince Albert from Ukraine three years ago. He is not officially in Veselka, but helps whenever they need a hand. He said that he knows a few newcomers as well. He said that the differences between Canada and Ukraine can be stark, especially with regards to transportation and communication.
“For example, right here you can’t be without your vehicle,” he said. “It’s must have. In Ukraine, it’s not important. We have a lot of C Train or just a big downtown. You can sit in your C Train and just (ride) downtown for working. That’s all you need.”
Everything in Prince Albert is essentially 10 minutes away by car. He explained that you can walk, but it is easier to sit in a car as opposed to walking.
Stefurk came to Prince Albert to study with plans to eventually attend University. He originally studied at Ecole St. Mary High School so he could pass an English as a Second Language (ESL) course.
“I applied for that test and I passed the test,” he said. “I have good results and I apply here and apply in Ukraine and everybody just accept me and I have just a big choice between stay in Ukraine of come to Canada,”
He is currently studying at Sask Polytech in Prince Albert while he waits to become a permanent resident, however there are challenges ahead. University is very expensive, and when you aren’t a permanent resident, it doubles in price.
“It’s too expensive for one year,” he explained. “For four or five year, you just spent many hundreds of thousands, too much expensive.”
Overall, he enjoys Canada and has liked the experience.
“Canada it’s a very good place for people just the whole country for people everything is here good,” Stefurk said.
Wells wanted to encourage people to be part of the vibrant Ukrainian community, especially those who have recently arrived in Prince Albert.
“I would really like to encourage newcomers to come and join either one of the Ukrainian clubs and also those who have been here for 15 to 20 years,” she explained. “To go and meet people and go bring young people to any of those clubs and help those who come. It’s a good place to meet friends.
“My children have no grandparents around, so for me it’s a blessing because my children can spend time with different generations that I can’t give to them.”