Calgary

Southern Albertans create group to 'fill that gap' getting Ukrainians settled

Millions of Ukrainians have been forced to leave their homes behind since Russia invaded, and a group called Project Sunflower in southern Alberta is helping some who are relocating to Canada.

One woman moving to Medicine Hat is stuck in Sri Lanka after the war broke out

People in Lethbridge came out to two rallies held at City Hall after the war broke out in Ukraine. (Austin Moloughney)

As millions of Ukrainians flee after Russia invaded their country, a group of volunteers is helping those coming to southern Alberta.

Calling themselves Project Sunflower, after the European country's national flower, the group was founded by members in Lethbridge who share strong ties to Ukraine.

One of those members, Mykhailo Pereverza, grew up in southern Ukraine. After war broke out with Russia, he organized two rallies in solidarity with his home country at Lethbridge City Hall.

"I definitely feel that I had to do something," he said.

Pereverza spends hours online every day in contact with friends, family and strangers who seek support in everything from translation to housing to visa applications.

Eventually, he connected with a small group of other locals seeking to help.

"We've really stepped in to fill that gap … what the federal government is not able to do," said Rowen Hill, a second-generation Ukrainian Canadian.

"We are somewhat of a matchmaking system."

Rowen Hill, left, and Mykhailo Pereverza are both Ukrainian. They've come together to create a grassroots organization that is helping settle Ukrainians in southern Alberta. (Jennifer Dorozio/CBC, submitted by Mykhailo Pereverza)

Hill says they are working to connect people with jobs, help them get kids enrolled in schools and have even pooled their money to pay for flights to Canada. 

"We're really doing everything that we can to just create a stable foundation for incoming Ukrainians to settle here in southern Alberta," said Hill.

"We're growing and scaling and changing as the needs grow and scale and change."

So far, the group has worked with 100 families. The first will be arriving in Lethbridge in a few weeks. Hill plans on welcoming one of those families to her basement suite in the city.

Mariupol to Sri Lanka to Canada

Iuliia Myroshnychenko, who is from the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, was vacationing with two friends in Sri Lanka when the war began.

"My paradise, it switch, change to hell. It's terrible," she said.

Iuliia Myroshnychenko and her mother in Mariupol, Ukraine. Myroshnychenko was on vacation in Sri Lanka when Russia invaded her home country. Now she cannot return. (Submitted by Iuliia Myroshnychenko)

Myroshnychenko has watched from afar as the city she lives in endures bombings and attacks. Early on, she even lost contact with her mother for over two weeks — before learning she was safe.

"It was for me very stressful because I didn't know if she leave or not leave," she said.

Myroshnychenko cannot return to Mariupol, where her life is. She was able to obtain a work visa and plans on moving to Medicine Hat alongside her travel companions.

She found Project Sunflower online, where she connected with Pereverza.

She and her friends who are also stuck in Sri Lanka are trying to obtain travel funds before coming to southern Alberta, where she has a family connection.

Project Sunflower is in the process of locating a place for them to stay, and Pereverza is trying to raise funds for their travel.

Though much of what comes next is unknown, Myroshnychenko says she's doing what she can right now, like focusing on practising English and staying in contact with family.

"I'm very grateful to people who communication with me and try to support me," she said.

"It's a situation I never wished."

She and other Ukrainians in contact with Project Sunflower will arrive in the coming weeks.

The group hopes to obtain not-for-profit status soon in order to bolster its fundraising efforts.


CBC Calgary has launched a Lethbridge bureau to help tell your stories from southern Alberta with reporter Jennifer Dorozio. Story ideas and tips can be sent to jennifer.dorozio@cbc.ca.

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