Home Global Dozens of Ukrainian refugees are en route to Newfoundland, ready to call the Rock home

Dozens of Ukrainian refugees are en route to Newfoundland, ready to call the Rock home

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Dozens of Ukrainian refugees are en route to Newfoundland, ready to call the Rock home

A group of Ukrainian refugees gather for a bus to take them to the airport in Katowice, Poland, where they will board a charter flight to Newfoundland. Photography by Anna Liminowicz/The Globe and Mail

Olga Antoniuk knows nothing about Newfoundland and Labrador, but she can’t wait to get there and leave the war in Ukraine far behind.

Ms. Antoniuk and her husband, Ivan, along with their cats – Bella and Simba – were among 168 Ukrainian refugees in Poland who took a chartered flight to St. John’s on Monday from Katowice, which is south of Warsaw.

The couple are from Chernivtsi, in western Ukraine, and ever since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24, Ms. Antoniuk has been consumed with worry and looking for a way to get out. Her husband, who is also a Romanian citizen and a former real estate agent, was forced to leave Ukraine after the fighting. Now she hopes to start a family in Newfoundland and find employment. They’re both 30 and having a child in Ukraine seemed inconceivable to her.

Ukrainian refugee Ivan Antoniuk, 30, checks on his cat, Bella, as he waits to embark on the first leg of the journey to Newfoundland.

“We dream about a child but we can’t do that right now in Ukraine. Everyday I feel stressed. It’s a lot of stress. It’s unusual. “You think only about the war,” said Ms. Antoniuk as she waited at an airport hotel for a bus to her terminal. “I think that in Canada we can start a new life, a really new life.”

The charter flight represented the culmination of weeks of work by a team of provincial officials who have been in Warsaw since late March pitching Newfoundland to refugees. Sonia Parker (a Polish-born provincial immigration officer) said that she had been visiting shelters and meeting Ukrainians in the street. She also mentioned how they have built relationships with other organizations around Warsaw. We didn’t expect it to turn out the way we expected. But here we are, the plane is pretty much full.”

Where are the Ukrainian refugees going?

The Canadian government has introduced a special visa program that will allow Ukrainian refugees to stay in the country for as long as three years. Newfoundland is eager to welcome as many people as possible to the island.

After arriving in St. John’s, the refugees will be put up in hotels for two weeks while volunteers and aid agencies help them find jobs, permanent housing and schools for their children. There are many more refugees on the way; there is a waiting list for the next flight.

Many of the Ukrainians who flew out on Monday already had big plans for their future in Newfoundland.

Serhii Firsikov, 30, and his wife, Agnieszka, 29, are among the Ukrainian refugees waiting to board a flight from Katowice to Newfoundland.

Serhii Firsikov, 30, wants to open a barber shop and he’s hoping that by relocating to Canada he’ll also encourage his parents to leave Ukraine and join him. He was in Poland at the time of the conflict. His wife stayed with him in Warsaw and he volunteered for a humanitarian organisation.

He’s worried about his parents, who live near Irpin, the scene of some of the worst combat. “At 5 a.m. on Feb 24, my mom called me and said the war had begun. He said, “You cannot prepare for such information,” as he waited to board the bus for Toronto. “Everyday I’m afraid they won’t call.”

Marina Chernova and her six-year old son are among those relocating to Canada.

The flight to Canada was also something of a dream come true for Mr. Firsikov. “When I was 10 years old, my mom asked me ‘What do you wish?’,” he recalled. Because of his passion for peaceful living and whales, he sold Newfoundland. We realized we needed a family-friendly city. We decided to move to Newfoundland because of this. We’re super thankful for this.”

Mahmoud Atris, 25, plans to finish his medical studies in Newfoundland and become a surgeon. When he was about to graduate from the university of Kyiv, Russian missiles began falling on his home in Zhytomyr. I could see the Russians from my window. The Russians were just down the street.”

He found the Newfoundland program online a few weeks ago and couldn’t wait to apply. He was eager to board the plane and was among the first people waiting at the airport for the bus.

“I’m so nervous, actually,” he said. It was not something I had in my plans to go to Canada. I hope I’ll be able to give back and be grateful for this opportunity that I’ve been given.”

Iryna Zozulia, 27, has already been offered a customer service job with a Canadian aviation company. When asked about Newfoundland, she joked that she was from Lviv, Ukraine. She concluded that it was beautiful after a quick internet search. The pictures are nice.” Then her friend piped up with a smile; “The winter is long.”

Mahmoud Atris, a 25-year-old medical student from Kyiv, prepares to leave for Newfoundland where he hopes to continue his studies and become a surgeon.

Natalia Semenets and her 16-year-old son, Serhii, share some final words before Serhii leaves Poland and begins the journey to Newfoundland.

For Marina Chernova, Newfoundland represented a chance to get her six-year-old son, Damyr, to safety. Chernivtsi is also her home and she felt the danger was too great. After doing some research, she felt that the province was worth her time. She said, “We saw that Newfoundland is beautiful and that it has a lot of good people.”

Not everyone plans to stay in Newfoundland or Canada long term.

Serhii Semenets, 16, was headed to St. John’s on his own on Monday. Unlike many of the others, Mr. Semenets has some insider knowledge of the province. While studying in Newfoundland, his sister spent four years there. She is now a math professor and will be back in St. John’s to join her husband. While he is away, Mr. Semenets will be living with one her close friends.

On Monday as he sat in the airport hotel lobby with his mother, who accompanied him on the trip to Katowice from their home in Zhytomyr to say goodbye, Mr. Semenets talked about his future. Semenets wants to be a politician and study political science. He said, “After I’m done with my studies, I plan to go to Ukraine.” “I want to live in Ukraine and make my city comfortable for life.”

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