Toronto

Markham woman urges federal immigration department to speed up Ukrainian applications

A Markham woman said she is “desperate” to get her Ukrainian parents to Canada after applying for a visitor visa more than two months ago. 

IRCC says it's working 'around the clock' to get Ukrainians safely to Canada

Olena Zhurzharova's Ukrainian parents, who are in their 80's, have been waiting more than two months for a visitor visa. (Submitted by Olena Zhurzharova)

A Markham woman said she is "desperate" to get her Ukrainian parents to Canada after applying for a visitor visa more than two months ago. 

Olena Zhurzharova said she has messaged Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada about the status of her parents application but was told visas are granted on an individual basis and has no timeline as to when her parents can safely get to Toronto. 

"I am desperate. I feel I am responsible for my parents, I must help them," Zhurzharova said. 

"I am not asking anything from Canadian government, I am not asking for money, I am not asking for housing ... I am just asking Canadian government for a visitor visa." 

Zhurzharova said she has a house where her parents can stay and she is able to provide for them when they arrive. She said they plan on going back after the war ends and are only interested in a visitor visa. 

She said her elderly parents hoped the war would be over soon and didn't want to leave the only home they'd ever known. 

Smoke rises over the remains of a building destroyed by a military strike, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Lysychansk, Luhansk region, Ukraine June 17, 2022. (Oleksandr Ratushniak/Reuters)

But bombing in their home city of Lysychansk has forced them to find refuge in a village in Lithuania.

"They are living by the mercy of kind people ... but unfortunately we never know when situation changes."

She said the anxiety is growing increasingly worse for both her and her parents and she doesn't know who to turn to. 

"I expected Canadian government to help Ukrainian people and help faster and provide help as they stated they would." 

Toronto immigration lawyer Andy Semotiuk said it's an unfortunate situation but it's not all that extraordinary. Although the government initially promised Ukrainian refugees applying through the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET) program a few weeks' wait, some applications are taking weeks longer.

"A promise that was made in the beginning that they could get things out in two weeks seemed like a good idea back then but as the numbers built up, to maintain and to follow through on that commitment is difficult for the government," said Semotiuk. 

Andy Semotiuk is an immigration lawyer in Toronto. (Pace Law Firm)

But Semotiuk said the fact that the couple is in their 80's puts them in a vulnerable situation. His advice would be to call the IRCC and inform staff of the age of the applicants, which he believes could speed the process up. 

He also said applicants can shop around for a consulate that is able to speed up applications, for example consulates in Paris and Frankfurt. However, the financial means would have to be available to fly to those locations to apply at the relevant consulate.

The IRCC said in a statement to CBC that the department is working "around the clock" to process Ukrainian applications and get people to safety.

"It's important to note that the time it takes to process an application varies according to a number of factors and more complex applications may take longer," the statement from IRCC said.

The IRCC said it processes CUAET applications on a priority basis. An application is not considered complete until the person has provided their biometrics, unless they are exempt.

According to the government website the department has received about 343,000 applications and has approved 146,461 from March 17 to June 28. Since January of this year more than 55,000 Ukrainian citizens and returning Canadian permanent residents of Ukrainian origin have arrived in Canada.

Zhurzharova hopes her parents will be a part of that statistic shortly, but until then she says she feels like she is living a nightmare.

"It's like every day, day and night, I am thinking about my parents and I am tired of crying."

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