Windsor-Essex group working to give Ukrainian newcomers 'hope for the future'

A group of more than a dozen parishioners are coming together to build a central resource for Ukrainians fleeing their home country and resettling in Windsor-Essex.

From sponsoring families to making a list of translators, these community members are stepping up

Lasha Dudar is getting ready to welcome a Ukrainian couple into her home. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

At a moment's notice, LaSalle resident Lasha Dudar could receive a call notifying her that the Ukrainian family she has offered to house is heading for her doorstep. 

"I have the need to help and I have a room and they have nothing. They are literally coming with what they can carry," she said. 

While she waits, she said she's trying her best to prepare for what the couple might need. She's been able to secure items like clothing and toiletries by asking people for donations on social media, but when it comes to work permits or social insurance numbers, she said it's difficult to make sure she has all the right information. 

When she brought this concern to her father, Michael Dudar, he decided to create a group at their local church. 

"The people that are coming from Ukraine need all of the help they can get. The war in Ukraine is absolutely horrific," he said. 

"When they get here they need virtually everything ... We're not sure that we're going to be able to provide virtually everything, but we want to be able to help the people find where they can go in order to get everything they need." 

Michael Dudar, left, organized the group and Andriana Pitre, right, chairs the group. The duo hope to put information online that will better support those arriving in Windsor-Essex. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

The group, made up of about 16 members, held its second meeting Tuesday at the Saints Vladimir & Olga Catholic Church in South Windsor. 

The group is looking to create a website that can direct newcomers, or people helping displaced Ukrainians, to local services such as the multicultural council of Windsor-Essex, New Canadians' Centre of Excellence Inc. and Women's Enterprise Skills Training of Windsor Inc. 

During the meeting, the group also established a name for itself: WE SUN, which stands for Windsor-Essex Supporting Ukrainian Newcomers. 

"When [newcomers] do arrive, it's information overload. Where do you begin to even find the information you need? There's so much out there," said Andriana Pitre, chair of WE SUN. 

She also said they're looking to fill any sort of gaps, such as support people who need translators or transportation to get to appointments. 

Michael Jaworiwsky, left, attended the meeting as his family is accepting a Ukrainian mom and her six-year-old son. Giovanny Cortes, right, is a church-goer and says he understands the needs of people who are newly arriving as he is also a Canadian immigrant. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

As a newcomer himself, parishioner Giovanny Cortes was drawn to the meeting based on his past experience. 

"I came to Canada too, I was an immigrant same as them and I understand the struggle," he said. 

"I think at the beginning one of the most important things is someone to connect, someone that can speak your language." 

During the meeting, Cortes also pointed out the need for Russian and Ukrainian translators to help newcomers fill out essential paperwork, find employment and housing. 

"I am where I am today thanks to the people in Windsor-Essex," he said, adding that his message to those resettling is to "have hope for the future." 

"There's a big community here of Canadians or all sorts of backgrounds willing to help you, willing to support you and ... you are safe now." 

Meanwhile, LaSalle resident Michael Jaworiwsky told CBC News that he came out to the meeting because he and his wife are sponsoring a Ukrainian mom and her six-year-old son. 

"[My wife] hid my passport, so she won't let me go over to Ukraine to fight, so I can't go so how can I help out locally is with all these people that are fleeing that country, that's how we chose to be able to help," he said. 

Jaworiwsky said he expected a bit more out of the meeting, but also understands that everyone is figuring it out as they go. 

He said he wants to see all of Windsor's Ukrainian groups work together and be on the same page moving forward.