A Ukrainian couple from Maple Ridge is teaming up with politicians from the city and from Langley, to try and host people fleeing the country after Russia’s invasion.
Aleks and Natalia Vrublevskij have been in Canada for more than 20 years, but spent recent days calling dozens of relatives still living in their homeland, to make sure they are okay.
“Last weekend I tried to get a hold of as many as I could – even people I hadn’t spoken to in 30 years,” said Aleks.
He said those who are in rural areas have been less affected, but relatives in cities are in a scary situation.
Natalia has a cousin who fled from Kyiv, the capital that has been a focal point of the invasion by Vladimir Putin’s Russian forces. She was among the fortunate ones who was able to flee to Poland. It took an 18-hour train ride, in a train kept in total darkness so it would not be targeted by Russian forces. But now she faces a whole new set of problems – she got out with almost nothing, “a wallet and cell phone and that’s it,” and has nowhere to go.
“Who is going to take care of the refugees?” asked Aleks. “Imagine the stress people are going through – it’s terrible.”
He noted that Canada has approved 4,000 Ukrainian immigration applicants, but said that’s “nothing” considering there will soon be a million refugees. Officials with the European Union estimate four million people will flee the country. Canada is home to almost 1.4 million people of Ukrainian origin – only Ukraine itself and Russia have larger populations, so Aleks said it is natural to assume many will seek the support of loved ones here.
“We want to start to make something happen,” he said. “For us it’s important. I was never an activist, but when something like this happens, you have to get involved.”
Aleks said they are talking about expediting women and children because men aged 18-60 are being ordered to stay and fight.
“As much as we worry about them, they have their own attitudes – they want to stay and stand up,” he said, adding that he can sympathize with their willingness to fight.
“Nobody wants to leave their country, just because someone wants to come in.”
They have teamed up with local politicians, including Maple Ridge city councillors Ahmed Yousef and Gordy Robson, Cloverdale-Langley City MP John Aldag and Langley City Mayor Valaria VandenBroek.
Robson and his wife Mary have the experience of hosting 17 people who fled the Syrian conflict. They took a family of six into their home, and housed another 11 for about a year. They would walk seven children to Webster’s Corners elementary school.
Gordy Robson said they were “buried” in government forms and bureaucracy back then, and they hope to have a more streamlined process to help the Ukrainian people.
Yousef said the group will lobby the federal government to “open the doors” to allow them to swiftly host refugees.
His background includes five years working with the U.S. Department of State and Department of Commerce in Kuwait, including experience working in conflict zones.
“We’ll start asking the federal government to waive the process fees and wait times and try to get as many people out of Ukraine as possible,” he said.
They will also organize Fraser Valley churches and community groups to help support them, and create a “welcome wagon” here.
“There’s going to be a whole list of needs. We’re going to have to come together as a community.”
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