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Missionites scramble to support Ukrainian refugees

MCSS preps for federal guidance as locals donate, volunteer, plan benefit dinner
Ukrainian refugees walk along vehicles lining-up to cross the border from Ukraine into Moldova, at Mayaky-Udobne crossing border point near Udobne, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

As a flood of refugees pour out of Ukraine into neighbouring eastern European states, Missionites are scrambling to help in any way they can.

Many of those fleeing are expected to arrive in Canada in just a few short weeks.

Mission Community Service Society (MCSS) – responsible for resettlement locally – is awaiting word from the federal government on what the process will look like, said Kevin Tatla, community resource manager.

“It’s still quite early days,” Tatla said, adding that finding space will be difficult. “It’s tough. I mean, that in most cases, a lot of the refugees are larger families as well.”

Canada announced it was fast-tracking the application process for temporary visas for emergency travel for an “unlimited number” of Ukrainians on March 3.

RELATED: Canada expedites temporary visas for Ukrainians fleeing war

When refugees arrive in neighbouring countries like Poland and Hungary, instead of taking a year, their Canadian application for refugee status will now take two to four weeks, Tatla said.

The federal government pre-determines which province they will relocate to, and then the province puts out a call to municipalities to see what their capacity is.

Tatla admits the housing crisis and the low vacancies make resettlement a challenge locally. He said they are in constant touch with neighbouring communities to possible gauge solutions.

“It just takes constant outreach, advocating for potential tenants and seeing if (people) have the ability to help them,” he said. “It’s not easy.”

After they arrive, MCSS staff are specifically trained to help ease the resettlement process, Tatla said.

But other local residents are helping to support the refugees before they even arrive.

Some have been renting out Ukrainian apartments in war torn areas through Airbnb (who have waived fees), putting money directly into the accounts of the refugees.

Others are taking an even more direct approach. Mayoral candidate Dustin Hiles, who announced his campaign seven months ahead of the election, says he is putting everything on hold to volunteer overseas to help bring refugees to Canada.

He leaves for Poland on March 28, dubbing the situation “the Dunkirk of our generation.”

Hiles said that he and a friend will be renting out an apartment to “offer (refugees) two or three days of respite while they’re filling out the paperwork to get on the plane to come to Canada.”

“It’s a transitional place where they can have a shower, and we can cook them food, we can get them what they need,” he said. “I’m Russian-Ukrainian, and this is very important to me because these are my people. It’s a moral obligation, and also as a person of faith.”

Hiles, in collaboration with the Holy Eucharist Cathedral (which is sponsoring his trip overseas), have also helped organize a benefit dinner at St. Joseph’s Parish Church on 7th Avenue on March 19.

Tickets cost $100 and tax receipts will be provided. All the funds will be distributed through the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church for medical supplies, diapers, female hygiene products, as well as protective equipment like bullet proof vests and helmets for citizens moving through safe zones, Hiles said.

Rev. Mykhailo Ozorovych of the Holy Eucharist Cathedral in New Westminster will speak at the dinner, and traditional Ukrainian food will be served.

The aim is to have a capacity of 150 attendees, but if public health restrictions are not lifted on March 14, there will be two groups of 75, according to Hiles.

Tickets can be purchased at the St. Joseph’s Parish office between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., or Hiles can be contacted directly at 343 585 4002 or

RELATED: Mission shifts focus for former Abbotsford man and Ukrainian wife as invasion continues


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