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Ukrainian families settling in Cochrane

Cochrane has opened its arms and doors to a total of 48 Ukrainian asylum seekers since the war with Russia erupted in their homeland in February.
family
Chantal Barber's guest family from the Ukraine, enjoying the scenery around Canmore.

Cochrane has opened its arms and doors to a total of 48 Ukrainian asylum seekers since the war with Russia erupted in their homeland in February.

Local organizer Chantal Barber says her life has been “insanely busy” in recent weeks as a result of the influx of families. She said she has been directly involved in helping bring 10 families into Alberta.

“Some days I make three trips to the airport,” Barber said.

Barber lists a number of terms she’s heard in media reports and elsewhere to describe the people she and others are helping – displaced people, refugees, or asylum seekers. She doesn’t spend a lot of time deciding which of the terms is correct, however.

“I call them Ukrainians,” she said, with a little laugh.

Barber hosted a mother, father and three sons (nine-year-old twins, and a 15-year-old) at her home in Cochrane up until last week, when they were able to find longer-term accommodations in Didsbury.

They fled their home in the Ukrainian city of Stryi – 10 kilometres from a military base – when martial law was declared, but before bombs started dropping.

“They went to Poland and stayed with a family of four they knew from the Ukraine in a one-bedroom apartment for three months,” she said.

Barber’s three-bedroom house already included herself, an 11-month-old daughter and 13-year-old daughter.

She said her guests could not have been nicer.

“Honestly, the kindest, sweetest, most helpful people ever,” she said.

When her baby was having a hard time sleeping one day, the Ukrainian mother immediately offered to watch the baby and suggested Barber go take a nap.

“I was like, ‘I don’t think you’re supposed to be helping me right now,’” she said.

The father is a trained heavy-duty mechanic in Ukraine’s oil and gas industry and has been in contact with an Alberta company looking for mechanics.

Barber is the project lead for the Alberta Real Estate Association team, which has provided support in locating accommodations for Ukrainian families in recent months. But mostly, she has been connecting families with hosts independently.

There is a sort of loose-knit, unofficial group of people involved in the relocation and welcoming effort, primarily connecting through Facebook.

Barber first got involved through the international website ukrainetakeshelter.com. She then connected with like-minded Albertans through social media, and things took off from there.

Now, when she connects with Ukrainian families, she does what she can for them, before usually referring them to local agencies.

The biggest challenge is finding housing.

“At this point, we’re having people who may have been fleeing before the war, so families with husbands, groups of five – it’s difficult,” she said.

As the military conflict in Ukraine drags on, Barber says they’re seeing more and more large family groups seeking support, because the groups that fled the war earlier are just now beginning to arrive in Canada, which means more families of four or five members instead of one or two individuals.

On her personal list she knows of 13 families waiting for a home in Cochrane. Those families are currently in Turkey, Germany, Poland, Hungary and Ukraine.

Community support

A community event for host families, Ukrainian families, local immigration partners, and members of the public will be held on June 17 at the Frank Wills Hall, 405 1st St. East, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Everyone from the Cochrane, Bragg Creek, and Bearspaw areas is welcome to attend.

Settlement counsellor Fleeha Ahmad from Rockyview Immigrant Services will be at the event to provide information for recently arrived families. She confirmed Cochrane is up to about 50 asylum seekers now. She assesses the families and refers them to the needed services.

"This meeting we're having for the Ukrainian families is a way to welcome them and help them integrate and connect with other families," she said.

Barber said not all of the Ukrainian families who have arrived in Cochrane are known to the various agencies involved, so it would be important for families and agencies to share important information to help get settled.

There is still a need for donations of money, food, and other essentials that are being distributed to recently arrived families and host families, she added.

“Support isn’t just for the families arriving – it’s also for the hosts,” she said. “It costs money to feed a family of 10.

“So if people want to donate gift cards, I can distribute them.”

Another item in high demand is preloaded SIM cards for cell phones, to help the newcomers stay in touch with their family members around the world.

Barber said they’re also looking for people to volunteer for a day to drive people around.

Anyone interested in either attending the upcoming event or helping out in any way can contact Barber via email at chantalcfl@gmail.com.


Howard May

About the Author: Howard May

Howard was a journalist with the Calgary Herald and with the Abbotsford Times in BC, where he won a BC/Yukon Community Newspaper Association award for best outdoor writing.
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