Manitoba

Canadian government should waive temporary visa requirements for Ukrainians, Winnipegger says

A Winnipeg man with Ukrainian family roots is calling on Ottawa to provide a lifeline to Ukrainians as Russian armed forces continue a devastating attack on the country.

'These people can come to Canada if the red tape is cut,' says Nick Krawetz

Winnipeggers Nick and Natalia Krawetz, from left, along with niece Anastasiia, Natalia's sister Maryana and brother-in-law Valeriy in a family photo in Budapest, Hungary. (Submitted by Nick Krawetz)

A Winnipeg man with Ukrainian family roots is calling on Ottawa to provide a lifeline to Ukrainians as Russian armed forces continue a devastating attack on the country.

Nick Krawetz is asking the federal government to waive temporary visa requirements for Ukrainians, as the destruction and terror of Russia's invasion of Ukraine nears the six-day mark.

"There's videos that are just heartbreaking right now. There's maternity wards in basements and bomb shelters. Babies being born with missiles exploding around them," he told CBC News on Tuesday.

"It's absolutely horrendous, and these people can come to Canada if the red tape is cut, through this cumbersome visa process that's there."

Krawetz is a third-generation Ukrainian Canadian, whose great-grandparents came to Canada about 100 years ago.

His wife, Natalia, grew up in Ukraine. Her family is still there and were forced to flee from their home southeast of Kyiv. Her parents and most of her sister's family have since travelled to western Ukraine. One of Natalia's nieces is here in Winnipeg, living with her and Krawetz while studying at the University of Manitoba.

Nick Krawetz, left, along with his sister-in-law Maryana and her husband, Valeriy, in a family photo in Kyiv. Maryana and Valeriy were living close to Ukraine's biggest airport, which is near Kyiv, before leaving for western Ukraine after Russia's invasion of the eastern European nation last week. (Submitted by Nick Krawetz)

It's been a trying situation for family and friends, Krawetz says.

"The country itself is facing an existential threat right now. And we're waking up every morning to see if our friends are alive, whether Ukraine is, as we've known it, still on the map, essentially," he said.

"It's just a range of emotions… We're sad, we're angry, we're frustrated. We're also determined to help in any possible way we can."

In a statement to CBC, Immigration Refugee and Citizenship Canada said it has decided to prioritize applications for new and replacement travel documents for Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family members in response to the situation in Ukraine.

"Over a month ago, we implemented measures to priority process citizenship grant applications for adoption, as well as permanent and temporary residence applications for people with a primary residence in Ukraine who want to reunite or travel with family, study, work or start a new life in Canada," said spokesperson Julie Lafortune. 

Lafortune says IRCC has approved about 4,000 applications from Ukrainian citizens. 

"We will continue to monitor developments in the region, track application processing closely and take action where needed to support those affected by the situation in Ukraine," Lafortune said. 

'No-brainer'

Krawetz acknowledges the various levels of assistance the Canadian government has announced for Ukraine.

But he believes more can, and must, be done as hundreds of thousands of citizens flee their homes and seek refuge in nearby nations like Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.

"It only takes political will and literally the stroke of a pen to add Ukraine to the approved list of countries for visa-free travel," Krawetz said.

On Tuesday,  the House of Commons immigration committee voted to call on the government to implement visa-free travel from Ukraine to Canada, The Canadian Press reported.

The vote passed without the support of the Liberal members of the Commons committee, who expressed concerns about domestic security if bad actors wished to enter the country.

On Monday, the House's foreign affairs committee heard that the government is not reviewing visa requirements for Ukrainians.

Nick Krawetz's friends Oksana, left, and Saak hold up a Ukrainian flag in their apartment basement shelter in Kyiv on Tuesday morning. (Submitted by Nick Krawetz)

Krawetz said he has been petitioning the federal government and sending letters to politicians since 2015, asking them to make it easier for Ukrainians to come to Canada.

A Canada-Ukraine mobility working group was established with the Ukrainian government last year, he said, adding it's a positive step, but it falls short.

"The temporary visa requirement is the last great barrier in our bilateral relations with Ukraine," Krawetz said.

Over the past seven years, he has received letters of support "from probably a majority of members of Parliament" across all party lines, as well as the Senate, he said.

"There is consensus and political will, I guess, among members of Parliament, and there is support widespread across party lines. So I do not know why this has not been done already," Krawetz said.

"To me, it is a no-brainer given our connections and deep historical ties."

Strong additions to immigrant community

Randy Boldt, an immigration consultant with the Winnipeg company VisaMax, believes removing visa requirements for Ukrainians entering Canada is an appropriate idea to consider.

He believes the intent of many Ukrainians that may come to Canada would be to return to their homeland, and notes that the Irish government has lifted its visa requirement for Ukrainians, allowing them to stay for 90 days before figuring out where they are able to go next.

"The vast, vast majority of them are intending to return. But something could happen which would force them to want to remain and apply for refugee status," Boldt said. "That's not their intention, but it may happen."

However, he adds that the current circumstances are unique, and believes supports need to be in place to help a potentially large number of Ukrainians coming to Canada, including Manitoba.

Refugees from Ukraine cross into Poland at the Medyka crossing on Tuesday. Russia's military assault on Ukraine is now in its sixth day. (Visar Kryeziu/The Associated Press)

Boldt thinks the provincial nominee program, which seeks skilled workers, businesspeople and their families, could be one avenue for Ukrainians seeking to come to Manitoba.

"We're looking at bringing in more immigrants and we're looking at diversification, and Ukraine is a great place to do that, so … they would get a lot of support," he said. 

"They would stay and they would be very, very good additions to our immigrant community here."

In a news release Tuesday, the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada — which represents progressive unionized employers in the construction industry — said member companies have pledged employment to help Ukrainian refugees build their lives.

The association is also in favour of fast-tracking Ukrainian refugees to Canada. It asks provinces to take all available measures to facilitate their entry, settlement, and employment as soon as possible.

With files from Peggy Lam and The Canadian Press

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