Millions of refugees have left Ukraine. Where are they going?

Story by CBC Kids News • 2022-03-17 06:00

Canadian government isn’t acting fast enough, some say


More than three million Ukrainians have fled in the three weeks since Russia first declared war against them.

They are now considered refugees. A refugee is somebody who seeks refuge in another country when things like war or natural disasters threaten their safety in their own country.

This is the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.

Most Ukranians are fleeing to neighboring countries, and some even to Canada, where many provinces have made a pledge to welcome them with open arms.

The Canadian government has said it’s willing to accept an “unlimited” number of Ukranians.

But some say Canada isn’t acting fast enough to get them here.

Where are Ukranians going?

The majority of refugees leaving Ukraine are women and children, as adult men between the ages of 18 and 60 are expected to stay in Ukraine and fight.

A girl looks out of a bus window before leaving Lviv, Ukraine, for Poland. (Image credit: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

Most of those kids and their moms are travelling by train, bus, car and on foot. Many are travelling day and night to get to safety.

Most Ukrainians who have escaped have fled to neighbouring countries, primarily Poland, Moldova, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Belarus and even Russia.

Although Ukrainians have fled to countries all over the world, neighbouring countries have taken in most of the refugees so far. (Graphic design by Philip Street/CBC)

Poland has accepted more refugees than any other country by far, with more than 1.5 million Ukrainians seeking refuge there.

“In the future, we could have a deep, deep refugee crisis here in Poland,” said Polish President Andrzej Duda on March 10.

Nikita Byhaienko, 7, holds a hot drink after crossing from Ukraine into Poland on March 16. (Image credit: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

As refugee numbers climb, officials in neighbouring countries say they’re counting on governments in other parts of the world to step up and carry some of the load.

That includes speeding up the process for accepting those refugees.

Thousands of newly arrived Ukrainian refugees — most of them women and children — line up for food, medical care and a place to stay at the train station in Warsaw, Poland, on March 10. (Image credit: Murray Brewster/CBC)

Other European countries like Germany, Portugal, Sweden and France have also taken in large numbers of refugees.

The U.S. and Canada have also promised to help.

Children from an orphanage in Odesa, Ukraine, arrive at a hotel in Berlin, Germany, on March 4. (Image credit: Steffi Loos/The Associated Press)

How is Canada helping?

The Canadian government has created two pathways for Ukrainians to come to Canada.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said his department has created a visa category that will allow a limitless number of Ukrainians to come to Canada to live, work or study here for up to two years.

A visa is an official document that gives somebody permission to enter another country.

The government said it is also introducing an “expedited path” or faster route to permanent residency for Ukrainians with family in Canada.

Permanent residency means you aren’t a Canadian citizen, so you can’t vote, but you can live and work anywhere in Canada for as long as you like.

Meanwhile, thousands of Canadians from coast to coast to coast have stepped up and offered their homes to incoming refugees.

Manitobans Daria, Danylo, Demyan and Zorianna Hyworon, from left to right, stand in one of their empty, two-bedroom rental apartments in Winnipeg, hoping that in just weeks it will become a new home for a Ukrainian refugee family. (Image credit: Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

For example, staff at the Manitoba chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress said they’ve heard from more than 700 Manitobans who’ve signed up to host Ukrainian families.

The outpouring of support was so massive the group had to temporarily suspend applications so they could figure out how to make it happen.

Kids also helping out

While some are offering shelter, other Canadians are finding ways to raise money for incoming refugees.

At Beaconsfield High School in Montreal, Quebec, for example, Grade 11 student Skylar Rokov and her classmates organized an in-school thrift store to raise money on March 12.

Grade 11 student Skylar Rokov and her classmates sold used books, clothing and accessories donated by staff and students to raise money for Ukrainian refugees. (Image credit: Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

Skylar said it’s been empowering to take action.

“It feels like I'm doing something more than just being a student and more than just saying 'I stand with Ukraine' because of course I do, but I'm actually making a difference and it feels really good,” said Skylar.

Canadians are ready, Canada isn’t

Although many families across Canada say they’re willing and ready to take in refugees now, some say Canada’s provincial and federal governments aren’t working fast enough to get refugees here.

While some refugees have arrived in Canada, many are still waiting.

Daria Hyworon, one of the Manitobans who has offered to house refugees, said that the Canadian government needs to speed things up.

People are dying in this war, she said, and there’s no time to waste. They “need to come over right now.”

A girl trying to escape the Russian invasion waits at a makeshift camp for women and children in a train station in Lviv, Ukraine, on March 11. (Image credit: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

So what’s the holdup? Paperwork.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and other critics say that the visa requirements that the Canadian government is imposing on Ukrainians are too strict.

They are calling on the government to drop those requirements to allow Ukrainians to travel to Canada freely.

When asked about that possibility on March 2, Fraser said it would take too long to tweak the computer systems used by immigration officials to make that work.

On March 2, the government also said that a screening process is necessary to make sure pro-Russian Ukrainians aren’t accidentally allowed into Canada.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits with Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw, Poland, on March 10. (Image credit: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Staff at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told CBC Kids News on March 16 that their “goal is to make it easier and faster for Ukrainians to come to Canada.”

They said they are prioritizing Ukrainian visa applications, but they did not mention any plans to drop all visa requirements.

Is this news upsetting to you? If you're looking for someone to talk to, reach out to an adult you trust. You can also call Kids Help Phone, or text them at 686868. Click here to visit their website.

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With files from Marina von Stackelberg/CBC, Murray Brewster/CBC, CBC News

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