Julia Guk, Ukrainian Canadian living in Timberlea, NS, says she is concerned for family in Kyiv, but is remaining cautiously optimistic for those trying to come to Canada.
“It’s taken way too long. It’s now been over a month since the war started,” Guk said.
Days after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Guk submitted visa applications for her two aunts and three cousins. Fingerprints were needed. Her family of her went to Italy because Poland did not look promising.
“The visa application center in Warsaw had people tenting there, from the night before. Sleeping on the ground,” Guk said.
Marina Petrovska also left Poland and made her way to Belgium. She is trying to come to Canada, but she needs a biometrics appointment—one that she could only book in Paris in the middle of April.
“For me, I’m in Belgium right now and the closest visa center is in Düsseldorf, Germany but it was all booked for months and months ahead,” Petrovska said.
President of the Ukrainian Canadian Bar Association, Jason Woycheshyn, is part of a group of lawyers working pro-bono to help bring Ukrainians to Canada.
The group has helped process applications for around 25 different families.
He said he is grateful for the support from the government to help Ukrainians, but adds he thinks Ottawa’s program is cumbersome, complicated and points out it requires biometric data for most applicants – plus the cost to travel.
“Partnering with airlines such as Air Canada, or other airlines to bring people here to remove the financial barrier of getting here would be hugely significant,” Woycheshyn said. “I know people in our community have even talked about getting a cruise liner and getting a ship load of people over here.”
He also wants Ottawa to coordinate a virtual summit with Ukrainian community leaders to provide clarity to Ukrainians seeking to make Canada their new home.
He said not everyone offering their homes are genuine, and conversely, not all people saying they are Ukrainian and are looking to Canada are those people.
“Bad actors will take advantage of crisis situations and there’s no screening mechanisms.”
Woycheshyn said he believes now that the demand and offers of support are understood, coordination is needed.
“So if you want to come you know exactly where you’re going to go to stay, what sort of coverage you’ll have from a health insurance perspective, you have some idea of the people you’re going to stay with,” he said.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said Ottawa is developing a centralized system to target donations and distributions to maximize the good will of Canadians.
He also pointed out how a new system to process applications within a two week period is paying off.
“More than 90,000 applications have been made, and more than 14,500 approvals have been made despite having just passed that two week window,” Fraser said.
Fraser said Canada is about to open new centers in Warsaw and Berlin, and has put more resources in Bucharest, Bratislava, Vienna and elsewhere.
Over the past week, there have been about 15,000 biometrics processed.
“The numbers that I’m seeing come through the system are significant and we’re going to very soon be seeing large numbers of people potentially arriving in Canada.”
Guk said she noticed the visa process improved over the last two weeks and Monday morning her family received a decision.
“We don’t know what that decision is. We obviously are hoping for good outcomes but this week there is a very high chance they will actually receive a decision in the mail,” she said.