Ukrainian visitor once stuck in limbo now working to build new life in Toronto

One month ago, Svitlana Trofymchuk didn't know how she'd be able to make ends meet. She couldn't return safely to her home in Kyiv, but couldn't work in Canada with her tourist visa. Through the support of the community she now has a job, a work permit and is helping other Ukrainians.

Svitlana Trofymchuk, who couldn't go home and couldn't work in Canada, now has a job

Svitlana Trofymchuk at her desk at the International Language Academy of Canada in Toronto. (Rob Krbavac/CBC News)

When war broke out in her home country of Ukraine, Svitlana Trofymchuk was thousands of kilometres away in Toronto visiting friends.

She worried for the safety of her family, whom she supports financially. She also wondered whether she'd be able to return home, and if not, how she'd be able to survive in Canada without the ability to work.

After CBC News first shared Trofymchuk's story of being stuck in limbo, many community members and groups reached out offering their support to the 49-year-old.

"I'm a lucky person," Trofymchuk told CBC News from the offices of International Language Academy of Canada (ILAC), where she was recently offered a job.

Trofymchuk is one of many Ukrainians who have successfully applied for an open work permit, which is available to Ukrainian nationals and their family members. She's now paying it forward; part of her job at ILAC involves helping others who want to flee the country and support those, like her, who are trying to build a new life in a foreign country.

Open work permit

On March 17, the federal government announced the launch of the Canada Ukraine authorization for emergency travel authorization – or CUAET – part of which includes the option for Ukrainians to apply for the three-year open work permit. 

Trofymchuk says it took about one week for her application for the permit to be approved.

A man walks past a residential building that was heavily damaged during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

"It was very fast," said Trofymchuk, who has been eager to work since realizing she could not safely return to Kyiv, where she ran her own women's social club, a business that is now shuttered due to the violence.

After reading about Trofymchuk's plight in the CBC news story,  ILAC CEO Jonathan Kolber realized she was a former English student at the academy. He contacted her to offer his help.

"I just thought: we can help. We can give her a job, we can give her an apartment, we can help her start her new life in Canada," said Kolber.

Jonathan Kolber, the CEO of the International Language Academy of Canada, reached out to Trofymchuk after realizing she'd been a student there. (Rob Krbavac/CBC News)

Kolber says Trofymchuk is working in recruitment, but also helping Ukrainians who want to come to Canada to learn English. ILAC is offering assistance in various ways to students.

"It's created an opportunity for her to help other Ukrainians," said Kolber.

"As we say, we're just paying it forward. And if more Canadian businesses could hire Ukrainians, we can change their lives."

Women empowering women

Trofymchuk's story also resonated with Rebecca Lake, director of the Toronto chapter of the group Wine, Women & Wellbeing – a community building and networking organization that brings women together through gatherings in different cities across the country.

"The fact that she had her own social club back in her home, it just seemed so perfect," said Lake, who reached out to Trofymchuk on Facebook offering to help her after reading the CBC News story.

Rebecca Lake is the director of the Toronto chapter of the group Wine, Women & Wellbeing. The group is holding a fundraiser for Trofymchuk. (Rob Krbavac/CBC News)

Lake says the founder and CEO of the group is herself Ukrainian, and they decided to hold an event in Toronto Tuesday night to help raise money for necessities like clothes and furniture for Trofymchuk's new apartment.

"We don't usually do fundraisers, but we thought this would be a really great way to get together and also just introduce Lana to the incredible women of Toronto," she said. 

'It's changed my life'

Trofymchuk has been watching with trepidation as the Russian attacks intensify  — in particular, the recent violence in Western Ukraine. Her family is in Kuzmivka, roughly 300 kilometres northeast of Lviv.

"It's a scary situation," she said.

Firefighters battle a blaze after a civilian building was hit by a Russian missile in Lviv, Ukraine. At least six people were killed and eight wounded in missile strikes in different areas of the city, according to the governor. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

But Trofymchuk says she takes comfort in the knowledge that she can continue to support them financially.

"It's changed my life. It gives me opportunities," said Trofymchuk.

Not only that,  she says she enjoys her work knowing her role is helping many like her who are trying to rebuild their lives.

"I know many Ukrainian people here. They need a job," said Trofymchuk.

"So we'll find it together and I will help them." 

Trofymchuk has been watching the Russian offensive closely and worries about the safety of her family. (CBC)

With files from Kirthana Sasitharan