Ukrainians fleeing conflict in their home country head to Newfoundland and Labrador on Monday. (Andres Furey/Twitter)

It was less than a month after Russia invaded Ukraine that Kelly Power received a message from an old friend asking if she would take her 16-year-old brother in, if he could make it to Newfoundland.

The boy was in the Ukraine and his sister was trying to get him out. He had lived in Newfoundland and worked with Power in a pharmacy four years earlier. They got along well and remained friends, even after the sister moved out.

Power, 52, said she didn’t think twice about agreeing to take the boy in.

“If I said no, he wouldn’t have anywhere to go,” she said in a recent interview with the Canadian Press. “I was the way out of it.”

The teenager is scheduled to arrive in St. John’s on Monday aboard a plane from Poland chartered by the provincial government and carrying up to 175 Ukrainian refugees.

The flight is part of a massive effort led by the provincial government and powered by a network of unaffiliated volunteers, and people like Power, working to bring Ukrainians to Canada’s easternmost province and ensure they are safe, housed and cared for.

Newfoundland and Labrador opened a satellite office in Warsaw, Poland, in March to help Ukrainians fleeing Russian attacks resettle in the province, outpacing Ottawa by nearly two months.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday that the federal government would open an office in Warsaw to help Ukrainians come to Canada and paid a surprise visit to the capital city of kyiv on Sunday to formally reopen the Canadian embassy.

Newfoundland and Labrador Immigration Minister Gerry Byrne insists the plane arriving Monday is the first government-chartered flight to bring Ukrainian refugees to Canada. His department had not confirmed how many would be on board as of Sunday night, but a spokesman said Friday 175 was the “working number.”

Preparation for the arrival and dispatch of aid

Power gets excited when he talks about the arrival of the teenager on Monday, whose name The Canadian Press has agreed not to publish, and all the things he will need: clothes, bedding, help with his English and friends.

He said his sister worked hard with the team at the Newfoundland and Labrador office in Warsaw to get him a visa, a passport and a way out of Ukraine and into Poland to catch the flight.

The trip to St. John’s will be difficult, Power said: He will leave his parents behind, as well as his dog. He has never been on a plane and he just turned 16.

Adilya Dragan was preparing a box of clothing and supplies for the teenager on Friday afternoon.

The 32-year-old Russian lives outside of St. John’s and moderates a Facebook group dedicated to shipping medicine and supplies from Newfoundland to Ukraine.

The first government-run flight carrying Ukrainians fleeing war is scheduled to arrive in St. John’s on Monday night. (CBC)

Now the group is also dedicated to helping the refugees who will arrive on Monday’s flight.

Dragan said he receives dozens of Facebook messages every hour from Ukrainians and those seeking to help them. She created a spreadsheet that tracks Ukrainians who contacted her to tell her they were on Monday’s flight and matched them with volunteers offering furniture, clothing or a place to live. Several rooms in her home are filled with mounds of donated supplies, and she has set up public drop-off sites where more things are waiting.

Dragan and her team of volunteers are putting together boxes of clothing, shoes, food, toiletries, dishes and dish soap, and will be at the airport on Monday with a personalized package for everyone on your list and other items for everyone else. on the plane.

“We will have a billboard and some brochures,” he said. “And once people leave, we will greet them in Ukrainian and give them information so they can contact us and tell us what they need.”

Dragan said she has been overwhelmed with people offering to help on St. John, though more volunteers, supplies and donations are always needed.

“The people are great here,” he said. “I love Newfoundlanders; they are wonderful people. You can’t find these people anywhere else in the world.”

The mother of three has her own full-time job and said all the work of sending aid to Ukraine and preparing for the arrival of refugees has become a second full-time job.

“My husband has family in Ukraine and my best friend is Ukrainian,” Dragan explained. “I just want to help.”

sharing tips

Meanwhile, a woman from Irpin, a suburb outside Ukraine’s capital kyiv, has some advice for those who land in St. John’s on Monday.

Galyna Velychko knows firsthand what it was like to uproot her life and flee for safety after spending the first few days of the Russian invasion debating whether or not to leave.

She told CBC News that when Russian tanks began to descend on neighboring Bucha, about 30 kilometers west of kyiv, she made a break for the Polish border.

“It was a really difficult decision and she still experiences post-traumatic stress. She cries every day. She sees her house in her dreams,” said her daughter, Nadiya Butt-Velychko, who acts as a translator during the interview.

“It’s terrible. It’s really hard. But she hopes for better. She made this decision to come here for her own good, for her mental health, to try to recover and try to have as stress-free a life as possible.” “

Galyna Velychko, left, has been living in Harbor Grace for about a month after fleeing her home in Irpin, a suburb on the outskirts of Ukraine’s capital kyiv. She is pictured here with her daughter Nadiya Butt-Velychko. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

Since then, Galyna Velychko has been living at Harbor Grace for about a month, a place her daughter has called home for years.

She said the adjustment has not been easy and she was devastated to learn that her community, home and workplace were destroyed.

Since landing in Newfoundland, Galyna Velychko has started meeting people in Harbor Grace, started learning English, and even landed a job at a local grocery store.

Her daughter said she was proactive during her first week at Harbor Grace, allowing her mother to get on with her life instead of thinking about home.

Galyna Velychko offers advice to other Ukrainian newcomers arriving later on Monday: don’t be discouraged.

“It will be difficult at the beginning, but just think about Ukraine and think about the people who fight there and the people who stay there. It is much more difficult for them. Eventually, it will be better.”

A part of the community

The flight carrying some 175 Ukrainians seeking safety and refuge in Newfoundland and Labrador is scheduled to land in St. John’s on Monday night.

It marks the first government-led arrival since the province set up an office in Poland in mid-March to attract those fleeing the conflict.

Byrne said the flight represents a “cross section” of Ukraine, with single mothers, grandparents and more heading to Newfoundland soil. Some on the flight are getting up and running and will be heading to their newly earned jobs Tuesday morning, Byrne said.

“We’ve really worked to develop a positive, safe, trusting relationship with those who come. It was never just a matter of ‘fill out a form and we’ll get you on a flight,'” he said.

“We want them to be successful when they arrive. We want them to feel at home and we want them to be a part of our community and our neighborhoods right away.”

There are short-term accommodations, Byrne said, but he is asking residents to give new arrivals time and a “reasonable amount of space” after fleeing their war-torn homes.

“Give them that respect,” he said.

Byrne said Canada border services, public health officials, the provincial immigration office and the Association of New Canadians and its team of volunteers will greet travelers upon arrival.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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