Edmonton woman helping Ukrainians navigate immigration process

Nataliya Kuts, who is assisting Ukrainians navigate Canada's immigration process, hopes she will someday meet the people she's volunteered to help.

'I just automatically did it' after start of Russian invasion, Nataliya Kuts says

Nataliya Kuts volunteers in other capacities, including here sorting donations at St. Nicolas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Edmonton. (Submitted by Nataliya Kuts)

An Edmonton woman assisting Ukrainians navigate Canada's immigration process hopes she will someday meet the people she's volunteered to help.

Nataliya Kuts moved to Canada from Ukraine 13 years ago. She earned a diploma in immigration consultation but works teaching English as a second language.

When war broke out in her home country in February, Kuts took to social media to offer free assistance to anyone who needed it.

"When I heard this news, I don't know — I just automatically did it," she said.

She has since spent hundreds of hours using her knowledge and language skills to help Ukrainians negotiate paperwork and other hurdles on their journeys to Canada.

Although none of the people she has helped have yet landed, she said she knows of about 20 Ukrainians who are making their way through the process.

Katernya Andriishyna and her daughter are among them. They are now staying in Poland, having left a town in the eastern Sumy region along the Russian border.

Andriishyna found Kuts listed on a Facebook page set up to help Ukrainians.

"I simply typed her and next day, surprisingly, I have got an answer and telephone call from Nataliya," she said in an email.

Kuts gave Andriishyna information about help and support available from the Canadian government. She provided assistance in submitting forms needed for a visa.

Andriishyna and her daughter are now waiting on next steps after submitting biometric information a few weeks ago.

"I hope one day to come to Canada and meet her in person to say how grateful we are," Andriishyna said.

"In the darkest times of our lives, she provided us with the necessary help and support, simply asking how we are and how she can help."

Nataliya Kuts, far left, at the Ukrainian welcome centre in Kingsway Mall. (Submitted by Natliya Kuts)

Kuts is confident she'll someday be able to meet the people she's helped.

"It will happen," she said. 

Kuts also volunteers at an airport welcome booth organized by the Ukrainian National Federation of Canada, and at the Ukrainian Canadian Social Services welcome space at Kingsway Mall.

She's inspired by the leadership and organization she has seen in Edmonton.

"It's [an] amazing thing, what we're doing here."

Across the country

Kuts is not alone. Many Canadians across the country are stepping up to help Ukrainians in any way they can.

Zack Nethery and Mary Mokrushyna formed Ukrainian Diaspora Support Canada (UADSC) after working to get Mokrushyna's family from Ukraine to Canada.

The couple operates the non-profit out of their Carleton Place, Ont., home outside their work hours.

Nethery said grassroots efforts can be "kind of the Wild West" when it comes to matching immigrant families with Canadian ones to stay with after arrival.

"We've heard some stories where it didn't work out very well, because there isn't really a vetting process, there [aren't] really checks, there [aren't] a lot of these kinds of things."

UADSC is working to create networks across Canada to help better settle Ukrainian immigrants.

It has gathered volunteers as it helps Ukrainians through the immigration process, matching families and buying airline tickets.

Nethery said when needs arise, finding someone to volunteer is nearly instant.

"We make a post and within 10 minutes, we have to tell people that we don't need anybody anymore."