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St. Thomas parishioners are helping Ukrainian families settle in Ottawa South

1. Uk kids on bus.jpegpatrons of OC Transpo.
The Kateryniak cousins —Davyd, Anna and Demian — are confident patrons of OC Transpo.

One year after the devastating war in Ukraine began, thousands of Ukrainians who fled the war are trying to make their way in Canada while worrying about family and the situation at home.

Leaving your home and bringing your children to a new country where you don’t speak the language while your husband stays behind is difficult and painful. But Mariana Kateryniak and her sister-in-law Oksana Kateryniak and their four children get by with a little help from their friends at St. Thomas the Apostle in Ottawa.

It all started with a St. Thomas parishioner talking with her Polish neighbours, who had assisted several families and individuals to come to Canada from Ukraine. “They reached out for some financial help and support, so we were doing that, and then they contacted us to see if we could actually sponsor these families,” Cathy Munroe, a parishioner and warden at St. Thomas, told Crosstalk.

St. Thomas said yes. Munroe, Sara Jordan, and Maureen Tracy (who is not a parishioner but a long-time friend who frequently volunteers for activities) formed a core planning team and then reached out to the church and other volunteers for help.

Munroe says this was a new situation for St. Thomas parishioners, who had helped sponsor refugees before. Ukrainians are considered displaced people, not refugees. The federal government created a special program for Ukrainians, the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) that allows displaced persons from Ukraine to come to live and work in Canada for three years.

One of the major differences, she explained, is that sponsors of refugees must raise a certain amount of money before the people being sponsored can come. The Ukrainians could come as soon as they had their documents ready, they had a way to get to Canada and arrangements for someplace to stay.

The St. Thomas group provided five flights with donated Aeroplan points and purchased the last one. They had raised about $24,000 so far.

Accommodations came as a godsend online when people offered donations and other necessities for Ukrainians coming to Canada. Cate Soroczan offered free accommodations for all six of the family members in her Old Ottawa South home for nine months. “She is wonderful and a key part of our success to date,” says Munroe.

One challenge was that the house only had one bathroom for seven people, but two volunteers, Serge Choquette and David Tracy, converted a large closet into a bathroom.. St. Thomas set up a table at the community farmers’ market that takes place on the church property on Saturdays (except during the winter). One couple from the church made little blue and yellow ribbon pins that they gave to everyone who put their name on a list to help or donate to the families. Donna Hicks, formerly the CEO of Habitat for Humanity for the NCR connected the St. Thomas group with Cundell Plumbing and Heating and Enertron Electric who provided free plumbing and electrical work.

Christine Habrowych and Myron Momryk, a couple with Ukrainian background who live in the neighbourhood, also provided a valuable gift when they offered to translate. Myron was with the St. Thomas group to meet one of the families when they arrived at the airport in Montreal. They also attend the same Ukrainian church.

The adage that it takes a village to raise a child (and help an uprooted family settle in a new place) is lived out as a big team of volunteers helped get the children enrolled in school, take nine-year old Davyd to soccer practice and help their mothers get to appointments and navigate their way through government and health care systems as well as preparing their resumes.

The three priorities now are helping the women find jobs, housing for after May 1 and fundraising, Munroe said.

They hope to find a new housing situation where their two families live together or close together, so they can help each other with child-care.

Munroe said their group would greatly appreciate help from volunteers with fundraising skills and experience as that is a looming challenge. Providing for six people since July has used up much of the initial funds raised, ““We’re trying to figure out what the biggest bang for the effort that we can do. My hope is that if they are moving out in May, I’d really like to get the first $20,000 fast so I can say to them, “Don’t worry.”

The families have developed good friendships with St. Thomas volunteers. “We’re dealing with them on a daily basis. Honestly, they are like my extended family,” Munroe said. “I was so behind, the kids came over and decorated my Christmas tree for me.  I feel like I have two more daughters and more grandchildren. They are very close to a group at the church who have been working hard with them.”

Donations to the voluntary effort at St. Thomas may be received three ways: by cheque to St. Thomas the Apostle Anglican Church; via Canada Helps; by etransfer to sttho[email protected].

PHOTO: CONTRIBUTED

Table Shot Mariana
Mariana celebrates her birthday with Joan Evans, Cathy Munroe, Maureen Tracy, Sara Jordan and Oksana.
St Thomas and guests Christmas
St. Thomas and guests Christmas
Pavlo at Soccer Game
Pavlo at Soccer Game

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