Manitoba community opens hearts and hotel to Ukrainians fleeing Russian invasion

Individuals and communities across Canada have opened their hearts, homes and wallets to help displaced Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, but many still have unanswered questions about how refugees will get to Canada, and whether any level of government will provide support for them.

Questions remain about travel arrangements, government support after they arrive

The Elkhorn Resort in western Manitoba is offering to accommodate up to 10 displaced Ukrainian families, and has job opportunities for anyone needing work. The municipality hopes to provide a safe refuge for those fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Tyson Koschik/CBC News)

Nestled near Manitoba's Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park, the cottage community of Onanole is a world away from war-torn Ukraine, but people here are hoping it will become a refuge for Ukrainians fleeing for their lives.

"Watching the news is seldom inspirational and, no offence of course, but the war in Ukraine is something that I have checked every morning to keep up to speed on it and try to wrap your head around how those people are, are dealing with that on a daily basis," said Craig Atkinson, one of the seven councillors of the Municipality of Harrison Park.

"Until someone's shooting at you or dropping bombs on your house, I don't know how you could put yourself in their shoes."

The municipality feels so strongly about helping Ukrainian refugees it has committed $20,000 in its year-end budget to helping them relocate, although Atkinson says they don't know yet how that money can be best used.

They just knew they had to do something.

The Municipality of Harrison in Manitoba has already earmarked $20,000 toward resettling people fleeing from Ukraine, and there are lots of job opportunities at area businesses, says Craig Atkinson, a local councillor and manager of the Clear Lake Golf Course. (Tyson Koschik/CBC News)

"We just want to help you and help get you in a place where you can be peaceful and a place where you know you're safe," said Atkinson, who also runs the Clear Lake Golf Course.

The municipality's efforts are part of a community effort that includes one of the area's biggest employers, Elkhorn Resort.

It's offering housing for up to 10 families in its staff accommodation and — along with other area employers —  jobs to those who need them.

"We have opportunities on the serving side. We have opportunities in the kitchen" and housekeeping, said Chris Phillips, general manager of Elkhorn Resort. "We have opportunities in the spa and at our front desk. Probably the only department that's full right now is our maintenance department," .

The community is putting together a marketing campaign and connecting with the nearby Ukrainian community in Dauphin, Man., to see whether anyone wants to bring over family and friends.

They're hoping to attract people who will stay here instead of moving on to a bigger city if they can't return to Ukraine.

"If someone wants to get us in touch somehow with friends and family, that's kind of the connection we'd like to see," Phillips said. "It would be nice to know some people coming here and they have some support. It might just make it a little easier on the hardest time of their life."

Chris Phillips, general manager of Elkhorn Resort in Manitoba, has room for up to 10 displaced Ukrainian families, and can provide jobs for them too, if they need to work. He is part of a campaign to market their community to people fleeing the Russian invasion in Ukraine. (Karen Pauls/CBC News)

The community's offer is just one of more than 800 the Ukrainian Canadian Congress-Manitoba received in two days after putting out the call to Manitobans, said volunteer Joanne Lewandosky.

"It is totally overwhelming," she said. "I'm just delighted to see that we as Canadians, as Manitobans, have opened our hearts or wallets and our homes."

On Thursday, the federal government announced more details on the new visa streams for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict.

The Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel provides fast-tracked temporary residency for up to three years. It eliminates many of the normal visa requirements with no limit on the number of Ukrainians eligible to apply. 

The online application process opened Mar. 17. 

Applicants overseas need to apply online for a Canadian visitor visa and provide biometrics — fingerprints and a photo. They are encouraged to apply for the open work permit at the same time.

Elementary and high school students can start attending school as soon as they arrive in Canada, and anyone looking to study at the post-secondary level can apply for a study permit once on Canadian soil.

Ukrainian workers, students, visitors and family members already in Canada can apply to extend their visitor status or work permit for three years, apply for a new work or study permit or extend their existing permit.

IRCC is waiving all application fees for these programs.

Jobs for Ukraine

Canada is also calling on businesses who want to employ Ukrainians to register their job offers on federal government's Job Bank, under the Jobs for Ukraine webpage.

"We are also in discussions with partners, including provinces and territories, the business community, the Ukrainian-Canadian community and settlement organizations, on how best to support those arriving from Ukraine, and more information will be available soon," Sean Fraser, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, said in a news release.

IRCC is also creating a special family reunification sponsorship pathway for anyone wanting to move to Canada permanently. It allows a wider circle of family members to sponsor newcomers.

Ottawa has committed $117 million to speed up the application processes.

Joanne Lewandowsky, a volunteer with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress-Manitoba, says they received more than 800 offers of accommodation for displaced Ukrainians in two days. (Karen Pauls/CBC News)

Lewandowsky says there still are answered questions on how Ukrainians will get here. Will Canada provide military planes? Once they get here, will they receive any provincial and federal support? Most will be single women with children because men 18-60 have had to remain in Ukraine to fight the Russians.

"I'd like to see them assisted in some sort of way, if it could be financially, because a lot of them are coming with bare minimum. They just took their overnight bag and ran," she said.

'Anybody ... should be welcome over here'

In western Manitoba, Atkinson has many of the same questions.

"I don't know how a person actually gets from there to here," Atkinson said. 

"To me, the biggest part is to get the people to this country and make it relatively easy for them. I understand they have to check certain things and make sure I guess the wrong people aren't coming. But jeez, anybody trying to get out of there certainly should be welcome over here."

Opening hearts and homes

3 months ago
Duration 2:29
Manitoba Resort offers accommodations and jobs to Ukrainian refugees.

There are already backlogs of appointments for security clearances in Canadian consulates in Europe.

However, in a visit to Manitoba last week, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendecino said everyone is  "focused like a laser" on dealing with that concern.

"We are cutting all of the red tape out of the system without compromising security," he told CBC News.