“On the very first day of the war, we (the citizens of Odessa, Ukraine) all were woken up by explosions at five a.m.,” says Liza Briukhina. “I felt bad and scared. Me and my friends started texting each other—all of us were shocked that the war started.”
Briukhina was one of 22,000 Ukrainians who came to Manitoba when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Over 12 million Ukrainians have fled their home country since, with over 137,000 coming to Canada. When the Government of Canada announced the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program shortly after the war began, Briukhina quickly jumped at the chance to apply, submitting her application just three days later. She arrived in Canada in late April 2022 with her dog, Zhuzha and friend Neli, and eagerly began working at N.E.E.D.S. Inc.
“We often hear how well Ukrainian newcomers integrate into Canadian society,” says Margaret von Lau, CEO of N.E.E.D.S. Inc., a non-profit that provides support to immigrants and refugee children and their families. “This is due to several factors. First of all, they are very well educated, often coming with master’s degrees and good command of English. Secondly, they adapt really well to living in Canada and want to contribute to the society. The support that they receive, including the Ukrainian diaspora, the Canadian government and settlement organizations like N.E.E.D.S. Inc, also play a huge role in their integration.”
Like any newcomer, the first few months for Ukrainians are challenging as they struggle to find suitable and affordable housing, apply for jobs and, in some cases, care for young kids. But Manitobans have eagerly stepped up to provide support in various ways, from opening their homes and offering food, furniture, clothing and toys to organizing fundraisers and volunteering at different organizations helping newcomers, including Ukrainians.
“The most important thing I love about Canada and Manitoba—people. People are just amazing! Very kind, helpful and friendly,” says Briukhina. “Our host family now are our friends and they are wonderful people, and Canadians who we have been meeting are very kind, polite and friendly!”
Von Lau echos this statement, reinforcing how friendly and supportive Manitobans have been and crediting the province’s well-established Ukrainian community in helping the newcomers feel accepted.
“Ukrainians do feel a sense of gratitude for the welcome they received from Manitobans and the Ukrainian community. Most of them like Manitoba, they even do not complain about the long and cold winter,” says von Lau. “But most importantly, they appreciate opportunities that Canada offers for them and their children. Often, they also share how a sense of safety and security means a lot for them.”
How companies can help
Ukrainians face major barriers while job hunting as many employers don’t recognize or are unfamiliar with their international credentials and work experience. Further roadblocks include the lack of a local network and English skills that may not be at the employer’s desired level.
Von Lau urges business leaders and HR personnel to be more accommodating in their hiring processes and give Ukrainian applicants—who are highly skilled with valuable and transferable experience—the chance to showcase themselves. She recommends companies offer in-person opportunities for job seekers to allow Ukrainian newcomers to shine—something that doesn’t always come through online.
As the war continues, the provincial and federal governments have announced new regulations to help Ukrainians obtain permanent residency, leaving many hopeful for a long, safe life working and flourishing in Manitoba.