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Displaced Ukrainians get a helping hand in New Westminster

Service providers provide health, ID and SIN services at a pop-up clinic in New West for folks fleeing war in Ukraine
Ukraine pop-up Holy Eucharist
New West resident Alina Novytske, left, accompanied her mom, Valentyna Berezhna, to a pop-up event in New West where she had access to a variety of services. She just arrived in Canada and now has a SIN so she can work.

A pop-up clinic for Ukrainians settling in Canada is just one of the reasons why New Westminster feels like home.

When Alina Novytske immigrated to Canada from Ukraine three years ago, she had to travel from office to office to get the documents she needed to start her new life in Canada. When Novytske’s mother-in-law arrived from Ukraine last week, they had to wait in lineups for hours and hours to get her a social insurance number.

Novytske accompanied her mother, who has just arrived in Canada, to a pop-up clinic on May 19 where she was able to access some of the documents she’ll need to live and work in Canada, such as a social insurance number and MSP.

“For my-mom-in-law, for a SIN number we wait so many times,” she said of her recent experience. “You need to take a queue at 7 a.m. in the morning and wait in the rain.”

Novytske said her mom, Valentyna Berezhna, is grateful to be in Canada, where her two granddaughters live.

“So she’s happy,” Novytske said.

Hosted by Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, Thursday’s pop-up clinic provided the personal touch to Ukrainians who have recently arrived in B.C., fleeing the war in their homeland. Volunteers from the community were on-site to provide guidance and to translate, if necessary.

A mobile outreach team from Service Canada, Service BC, ICBC and Fraser Health set up in Holy Eucharist Church’s office and offered services to temporarily displaced Ukrainians.

Rev. Mykhailo Ozorovych of Holy Eucharist Church had learned about a similar event fair or pop-up clinic in Victoria and lobbied to have one in New West as soon as possible. He said BC Services took the lead and reached out to other service providers.

“Everyone was very eager. ….  And here we are,” he said. “We have over 50 people registered.”

Holy Eucharist’s office on Fifth Avenue was a hub of activity on Thursday, with service providers set up in various rooms to help displaced Ukrainians get the documents they need to get established in Canada. ICBC provided advice and helped put folks on a path to get their driver’s licence or BCID.

“Service Canada issues SIN numbers here right on the spot for them so they can work right away, so that’s one of the most useful ones here,” Ozorovych said. “Downstairs we have MSP applications, so they help them apply for MSP online. We can do it ourselves in-house but it’s very helpful to have them here.”

Ozorovych said MSP applications can be done online, but people often need guidance as it’s not a simple application.

Instead of waiting days or weeks for social insurance numbers to arrive, they were provided on-the-spot to folks at Thursday’s event.

“They came here and they get it right away. Sometimes it matters a lot,” he said. “People want to get active right away. That’s a feeling of being useful to the country or being active, as opposed to staying at home and watching the news that’s happening in Ukraine. So they get to work right away, as soon as possible. Very helpful.”

A team from Fraser Health provided information about various services and offered immunizations.

“It’s amazing. It’s all in one place,” Ozorovych said. “On one hand some of them might not even realize how beautiful it is.”

Immigrants normally have to travel from office to office to obtain documents and information, he said, so the pop-up event allowed displaced Ukrainians to access multiple services in one location.

“If you have ever done any of those documents you know how long it takes,” Ozorovych said.

Ozorovych stressed that staff from Services Canada (which has recently encountered long lineups) were not taken out of those offices to attend the clinic.

“For me it was very important that we are not skipping lines,” he said. “It’s not officers pulled out from offices – it’s a whole different unit that works on this. So I was very happy.”

A home away from home

Holy Eucharist Church is a hub for members of the Ukrainian community, including those who have been displaced from their homeland by the current war.

“We already have over 200 people – 280 – that we have helped,” Ozorovych said. “One way or another we help them, whether it’s with financial, housing, flights, jobs – or just job or just housing or just financial or just advice. They somehow have worked with our staff here at the church.”

The pop-up event is just one component of the through the church’s resettlement program for temporarily displaced Ukrainians. Others services include helping out with housing, transportation, and employment skills, such as writing resumes and letters, interview and job skills.

For Ukrainians arriving in Canada, the church provides a feeling of home.

“They have many events, a Ukrainian school and kindergarten and daycare. It is nice.  A library and art classes. It’s so nice,” Novytske said. “It’s like at home. We feel like at home.”

Novytske said she’s felt very welcomed since moving to New Westminster a year ago.

“New West is beautiful,” she said with a smile. “It is the best city in the world.”


Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus