Nfld. & Labrador

Association for New Canadians needs volunteers to help Ukrainian refugees in N.L.

The St. John's group is looking for people to help Ukrainian refugees settle into N.L. life.

Group is looking for people to help refugees settle in to N.L. life

Students from St. Paul's Junior High created these posters to welcome Ukrainian refugees to Newfoundland and Labrador. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

While 166 Ukrainian refugees begin to adjust to life in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Association for New Canadians is looking for volunteers who can be matched with people or families to help them feel welcome in their community. 

The group arrived by plane Monday seeking refuge from the war, and were met by government officials, community groups and supporters at the St. John's International Airport — the ANC among them.

"It's a big operation so we have interpreters, we have case managers, our employment team, our ESL team," said executive director Megan Morris on Tuesday. "All of those folks are involved to make sure that people are settled away, have everything they need and all these processes will roll out over the next couple of weeks to get folks attached to MCP, social insurance."

The group, which has been working closely with the provincial government since March, has been the main point of contact for people arriving from overseas.

Morris said the ANC's focus is helping get people to their temporary accommodations, finding them permanent places to live, registering kids for school, English courses and employment.

"We've established the Ukraine support team. We have our regular team that work on the work for the refugee populations that we support," she said. "But this team, especially, was working to support this arrival."

Brian Cherwick was one of the volunteer translators at St. John's International Airport on Monday. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

Continuing support

In March the province sent a small team to Poland to convince some of the millions fleeing the conflict with Russia to choose N.L. as their safe haven.

The move was a long one for travellers, who first had to get to Katowice, Poland, before catching a seven-hour flight to Newfoundland.

Some speak little English, others none at all. 

Volunteer translators were at the airport in St. John's to welcome the new residents and help them make sense of their new surroundings. 

Brian Cherwick, a musician of Ukrainian descent based in St. John's, was one of them. Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Cherwick has organized multiple rallies and fundraisers.

Ukrainian passengers were greeted at St. John's International Airport by groups of volunteers and organizers focused on helping them settle into their new home. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

"We were mostly translating between customs officials and the individuals arriving. I had fewer personal conversations and it was more official kind of stuff," said Cherwick.

"After they were finished speaking with customs people I did have a chance to speak with a couple of folks. Mostly they were just wondering what's waiting for them here. I guess [they were] kind of nervous, excited, all that sort of stuff at the same time."

Cherwick said one passenger even recognized him from his band the Kubasonics, because of the research he had done pm Newfoundland ahead of their departure from Poland.

But as the new arrivals get settled into their new lives — whether it's for months, years or a lifetime — Cherwick said it's important not to forget those who remain behind in Ukraine. 

"I hope the public won't forget that helping these new people here is really important, but they're in a safe place," he said. 

"Some of them may still be trying to come here to Newfoundland. They're still in dire need of help. I keep telling people to keep being in touch with your members of Parliament, let them know that we want Canada to continue its level of support. It's done a great job so far, as a country, and hopefully we'll continue doing that."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show