Calgary organization is working with Alberta’s incoming Ukrainian refugees to find them homes

Ukrainians displaced by the current war in their home country started arriving in Edmonton this week

By Halen Kooper | March 31, 2022 |5:00 am

People in a railway station in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv waiting for the train to Poland. Ukrainian refugees are starting to arrive in Alberta.

Photo: Shutterstock

Ukrainians displaced by the current war in their home country are starting to arrive in Alberta this week. 

For the Ukrainians who don’t have a family to help them, or don’t have a place to go, Fariborz Birjandian, CEO of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS), says the organization will step in to help those in need.

“We will provide the accommodation for them and we will provide the support for food, access to services, health care, whatever they need,” he says. “We will try to make the initial state in Calgary as pleasant as possible.”

A temporary home 

The Ukrainians entering Canada are on a temporary immigration visa, which also carries a work visa along with it, says Birjandian. Refugees started arriving in Edmonton on Monday. 

“These are people coming here with the intention that they have three years to stay here if they want to,” he said. “Depending on how things end up in Ukraine, then individuals can make a decision.”

After three years, Birjandian explains that the immigrants will have the opportunity to assess their situation here and the situation in Ukraine and make a choice on whether to go back or pursue a longer visa.

“As soon as they think something positive happened in Ukraine and they want to go back, they can go,” he says. “If they’re fully employed, they are already very settled here, and they like Canada then there’s a whole next step for becoming a permanent resident.”

Having worked with other special immigration programs over the years, and striking deals with companies like Airbnb to house special immigrants, Birjandian has managed to extend that support to new Ukrainians as well.

On top of that, Birjandian says there are other ways for Calgarians to help, from volunteering their time to offering places to stay.

“Some people have offered their home,” he says. “Some can volunteer to become their friend and mentor them.”

Close to home

One Calgarian who has volunteered to open his home to Ukrainian refugees is Ed Koshka.

Koshka was unsure of how to help but he knew he needed to do something. He jumped at the opportunity to get involved after his church’s communication and connection with CCIS.

“I just learned about it a few days ago, that they were coordinating this,” Koshka says. “They sent an email to people that have expressed interest and said, ‘Oh, we’re going to have a meeting on Monday.’ ”

While he doesn’t know when to expect them to arrive in his home, Koshka has opened up his basement suite for up to a family of four, a decision he says is important due to his heritage.

“I am of Ukrainian descent and that’s my heritage, my culture,” he explains. “I mean, I attend a Ukrainian church. I just feel compelled to do that.”

It’s the right thing to do 

Koshka says there is a humanitarian aspect to helping people in need as well.

“This is an unprecedented crisis and Canada and the west have to help. We have to help,” he says. 

“The history of western Canada has been that Ukrainians have been coming for 140 years. They have made a great impact on the western provinces,” Koshka adds.

Koshka also sees a mutual benefit between bringing new immigrants here, citing the diverse backgrounds of jobs in trades they could take, as well as helping those who have been displaced.

At the same time, Koshka knows that not everyone can offer up a place for a family to stay, but says there are other options to help the Ukrainians who will be arriving over the next while.

“There are monetary donations,” he says. “There are so many organizations that are putting together programs like the Red Cross and the Ukrainian Canadian Council. There are also opportunities to donate physical needs.”

Here is more information for those who want to help. 


Halen Kooper

Halen Kooper is a contributor at Calgary Citizen.

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