Ottawans open their doors to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion

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Ottawa resident Tammy Jeanveaux is awaiting the arrival of a family of four from Ukraine who will share their Nepean home with her until they are settled. (Guy Quenneville/Radio-Canada)

Like many of us, Tammy Jeanveaux has been transfixed by the horrifying images emerging from Ukraine as Russia continues its brutal and bloody assault on that country: cities reduced to rubble, bodies left where they fell, terrified families fleeing for their lives.

“I was watching the news and like everyone else, I was absolutely horrified by what I was seeing,” Jeanveaux said. “Just watching these images on TV, I felt like I had to do something.”

I just said, ‘I’m here for you.’– Tammy Jeanveaux

Jeanveaux, who lives alone in a four-bedroom house in Nepean, decided the best way to help was to find one of these families and provide safe haven under her own roof. It didn’t take long.

Through a Facebook group that matches displaced Ukrainians with Canadians willing to welcome them, Jeanveaux joined a family of four from the coastal city of Odessa who fled their homes on March 4 and are now in neighboring Romania, where they have just completed their trip. documents to come to Canada.

From left to right, Anna, 18, her mother Olena, her father Levan and her little sister Tatiia, 6, will soon arrive in Ottawa. The family is currently in Romania after fleeing their home in Odessa. (Submitted)

She was soon on the phone with Anna, 18, the only member of the family who speaks English.

“I just said, ‘I’m here for you,'” Jeanveaux recalled. “I think they had a great life in Odessa, and they just had to uproot themselves and leave everything behind.”

The family — Anna, her six-year-old sister Tatiia, her mother Olena and her father Levan, who hails from the former Soviet republic of Georgia and is therefore exempt from military conscription in Ukraine — are now trying to book a flight to Ottawa , and could potentially arrive within days. CBC has agreed not to release the family’s last name for their protection.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian evacuees board a train for Warsaw at Przemysl station, near the Polish-Ukrainian border. (Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Jeanveaux, a federal government security specialist, has started an online fundraiser to help cover their plane tickets and other expenses once the family arrives. She also struggled to collect needed supplies from her local Buy Nothing group and to find jobs for Olena, a nurse, and Levan, a baker. Jeanveaux admits it has been a daunting task.

“I don’t know what I’m doing, I really don’t know, but I just trust that everything will work out, and I know that no matter what, I’m going to provide a safe place for this family at least until they settle into their permanent lives.”

Hundreds of people join the registry

Others hoping to open their homes to families fleeing violence in Ukraine are turning to the Ottawa chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), which helps coordinate humanitarian assistance, as well as compiling a registry of people offering housing, employment and other help here at home.

By Tuesday, some 200 people had added their names to that list, including Catherine McLaughlin, whose family owns Terlin Construction in Kanata and Dragonfly Golf Links in Renfrew, Ont.

“We offer support in any way we can, whether it’s housing, employment or financial support,” said McLaughlin, whose own grandparents fled Ukraine for World War II and whose family continues to observe Ukrainian holidays and traditions.

“We feel there is a responsibility, and there is also a personal attachment.”

Catherine McLaughlin, whose own grandparents fled Ukraine during World War II, said her family was ready to help in any way possible. “We are equipped to do this, and we have the resources available. We want to help. (Ottawa Humans)

McLaughlin has now recruited three more families to join the UCC Register and said they are all waiting for the phone to ring.

“I am prepared for this calling, and we as a family are prepared for this calling,” she said. “I can’t watch a second more of these parodies happening, and I feel like we need to be in a place of action.”

According to the Ottawa Chapter of the UCC, the offers of help have taken many forms. Most are for families with one or two bedrooms, but there have also been offers of empty apartments and even campsites. Some called to offer jobs, mental health counseling or childcare. Lawyers called to offer pro bono work and doctors called to make room for new patients.

The UCC even heard young men asking for information about the possibility of joining the fight in Ukraine and offering their own accommodation to displaced families while they were away.

Sophia Lega sorts and tags donated diapers at the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Hall in Ottawa as the Ukrainian Canadian Congress collects items for humanitarian aid packages on March 5, 2022. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The organization said it was working in coordination with provincial settlement agencies on how best to review such offers and was also investigating “alternative housing options” for newcomers.

“We’ve had so many people contacting us,” said UCC volunteer Olenka Reshitnyk-Bastian, who coordinated a fundraiser earlier this month that drew such an overwhelming response that organizers had to close earlier than expected.

“We try to be proactive, but it’s really reactive because it’s such a changing crisis.”

Nav Center offered as a shelter

Another significant offer of refuge came from the founder and chairman of Devcore Group, which is finalizing its purchase of the Nav Center in Cornwall, Ontario.

“It’s a facility that can accommodate 500 or 600 people very quickly,” said CEO Jean-Pierre Poulin. “They’ve done that in the past.”

In 2017, the residential complex on the banks of the St. Lawrence River was used to temporarily house asylum seekers who had entered Canada from the United States. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the facility became an isolation center for Canadian cruise ships. ship passengers returning home.

The navigation center in Cornwall, Ontario, seen here in August 2017, was used to temporarily house asylum seekers who had entered Canada from the United States. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Poulin said he decided to contact UCC after speaking with a Ukrainian employee of another company he founded, 1VALET. The woman was fleeing towards the border with Romania when she ran out of gas and had to walk.

“They are good people, and they might like Canada and stay afterwards,” said Poulin, who also offers to feed Ukrainians who accept his offer. “They can contribute to the future of Canada.”

A story of help

On March 1, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson wrote to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser to offer “every on-the-ground help and opportunity” the city is able to offer people. fleeing the war in Ukraine.

While he acknowledged on Wednesday that many displaced Ukrainians will want to stay closer to their own country and possibly return home, Watson also suggested that the number of people seeking refuge in Ottawa could potentially rival previous waves, including Syrians who have arrived in recent years and the “boat people” from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia who sought refuge here more than four decades ago in what has become known as “Project 4000”.

“We were able to absorb the roughly 4,000 people into the school system, health system, etc., so that’s a number that we’ve used successfully, and it could be a similar number,” he said. said Watson.

The federal government has pledged to welcome an “unlimited” number of Ukrainians fleeing the war and last week announced a special immigration program that will allow eligible people to live and work in Canada for up to three years. The program waives many typical requirements for Canadian visa applications.

WATCH | ‘I know it’s the right thing’: Ottawa resident opens his home to family fleeing Ukraine

‘I know it’s the right thing’: Ottawa resident opens his home to family fleeing Ukraine

Tammy Jeanveaux says she was inspired to offer help after seeing “heartbreaking” images of families fleeing Ukraine. She is now preparing to welcome a family of four to her home in Nepean. 1:33

As she eagerly awaits the arrival of her new housemates, Tammy Jeanveaux said she was troubled by the large number of desperate Ukrainians who are now flooding online groups and “begging” for help to come to the Canada.

“It’s unbelievable, like it’s non-stop. Hundreds and hundreds of Ukrainians, if not more, are begging Canadians to welcome them,” she said, adding that some of those people told her directly appealed.

Jeanveaux said she was doing her best to spread the word and had already convinced two other people to open their own homes to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian onslaught.

And if there’s any money left over from her current fundraising campaign, Jeanveaux said she plans to use it to help more families find peace, safety and perhaps a future in Ottawa.

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