‘I’m very worried’: Former international students raising money to help Ukrainians studying in Ontario

Thousands of kilometers from home, Ukrainian students studying in Ontario are facing financial hardship, as they worry about family and friends back home.

“Stressful, devastating, heartbreaking” is how student Kateryna Postrybailo describes it.

“We have been struggling for almost three or four weeks with sleep problems” said the George Brown College student. “We always monitor our news. We try to get in contact with our family members making sure that they are safe.”

“I’m very worried and stressed,” said Danila Shapovalov, a York University film student who moved to Canada in September.

“I cannot really properly focus on my school because it’s creative work and I don’t know, just my mind cannot focus because of war.”

Shapovalov says he’s found it difficult to keep in touch with family and friends living in Kyiv.

“I cannot contact my family because they go to bomb shelters all the time and there is no network over there. I try to monitor all the news to keep up with them and see if Kyiv is being bombarded or not,” he said.

Worries about their homeland are making it difficult to focus on their studies, they said, however many are also dealing with another stress, the loss of financial support.

“Since the war has started, we have been cut off from our financial support and contributions from our parents,” Postrybailo said.

Shapovalov agreed saying, “my family was sending me money on a monthly basis just for me to buy groceries and be able to commute around the city, but now it’s all disappeared because we’re basically cut off. Our parents cannot go to the bank and send us money.”

For some students, that means it has become a challenge to cover things like rent and food costs.

Former international student, and recent graduate, Nazira Zhunissova says they know those challenges well.

“Not many people know that as an international student you’re not allowed to work full time,” Zhunissova told CTV News Toronto. “You can only work part-time, twenty hours per week … so it’s not enough to cover expenses.”

Zhunissova is a member of a group of former international students who have started a GoFundMe campaign to help Ukrainian students in Ontario cover some of those costs. So far, the campaign has received donations from friends and family, but organizers hope Ontarians will step up.

“It’s a bit difficult to raise money for students with everything that’s going on right now,” organizer Lola Popova said. “Some people might think it might not be such an urgent issue.”

The group is also asking Ontario’s colleges and universities to help shoulder another major cost, tuition. The cost of tuition for international students is exponentially higher than it is for Ontario students.

Organizer Illia Khomenko says Ontario’s post-secondary schools market themselves to international students, and should step up to help those students in times of need.

“Educational institutions themselves have the most ties to the governments,” said Khomenko. “They can pressure the government to say ‘we have 20 Ukrainian students or 200 Ukrainian students who are currently in need of financial aid.'”

Along with appealing for financial support, the group is also providing assistance with things like job searching and immigration issues for Ukrainian students through their Instagram page.

The group is composed of former students of many nationalities, but all understand the common issues facing international students, and they’re hoping to make a difficult situation a little bit easier, for those stranded far from home.

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