Online system helps connect skilled Ukrainians fleeing war with Manitoba employers

In 20 days, Olha Fedorova went from living in a country fighting a war to walking around her new architectural office in Winnipeg.

“There’s a huge library of materials, and she’s very excited to work with them,” her daughter, Yuliia Fedorova said, translating her mother’s Russian.

The Ukrainian interior designer and engineer will start next week at Architecture49, a Winnipeg-based firm that’s worked on projects like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

She left behind her husband in Kyiv, who is helping in the war effort against Russia. Meanwhile, Olha Fedorova is setting up a new home here with their twin daughters, who are studying at the University of Manitoba.

“Our family decided that it’s better for Mom to leave and work here to live with me and my sister. Then we hope later our father will join us here,” translated Yuliia.

Since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24, more than 5 million refugees have fled the country, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

Fedorova’s swift move is in part thanks to Manitoba economic groups.

Before the war, Economic Development Winnipeg and its sub-organization, Yes Winnipeg, had a job portal that connected Manitoba businesses with skilled employees. 

Now, they’ve tailored it so Ukrainians fleeing the war can easily upload their profiles, and Manitoba businesses can post temporary and permanent jobs specifically for them.

“We have labour gaps in various sectors,” said Nick Krawetz, a volunteer with the Manitoba chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress who helped create the portal.

“For example, in aerospace, manufacturing, transportation — these are all industries where Ukrainians are highly skilled,” which means they can quickly get jobs and help fill labour gaps, he said.

Krawetz expects the portal to bring a wave of Ukrainians to Manitoba, and said he hopes this kind of focused effort continues should any other country face hardships in the future.

At least 70 Ukrainians have already used a welcome desk that was set up at Winnipeg’s Richardson International Airport last week to help people fleeing Ukraine settle in Manitoba, according to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

Once someone is connected with a potential employer through the portal, the hiring process is expedited. The portal is connected to the Manitoba and Winnipeg Chambers of Commerce, as well as the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. Now that Ottawa has special visas for Ukrainians fleeing the war, the hiring process can move quickly.

Architecture49 interviewed and hired Fedorova within 15 days. Normally, the process takes two months.

“You watch all this stuff on TV and on the internet and you think, what can you do?” said Lee McCormick, the managing principal at the firm. He said he’s also Ukrainian on his mother’s side, and wanted to help.

“We saw this as a win-win because we needed somebody. We’re looking to hire someone, and it was unfilled for many months. Now here’s somebody who meets the criteria for the position, and can come to Canada and build a new life.”

Lee McCormick, managing principal at Architecture49, encourages other Manitoba businesses to hire Ukrainians looking to come to Manitoba to escape the war. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Though Fedorova speaks Russian and Ukrainian fluently, her spoken English may be a bit of a challenge, she said, though she can read and write it well. 

McCormick said he and other employers can get around language barriers, since most people are working remotely and rely on written communication.

So far, almost 440 Ukrainians who are overseas have created profiles, looking for jobs here, and 29 Manitoba businesses are offering up temporary or permanent jobs, according to Economic Development Winnipeg. The organization said once a Ukrainian gets here, they’re also connected with immigration and settlement groups like Manitoba Start.

For Fedorova, the quick relocation brings her family closer. Her daughters moved to Winnipeg three years ago to chase their dreams of becoming doctors. Now, she can be there for them and create a Canadian career of her own.

“Before Canada, we used to be together all the time,” she said through her daughter. “We were more like friends, not like mom and daughters. We missed each other a lot.”

Connecting skilled Ukrainians fleeing war with Manitoba employers

7 hours ago

Duration 2:38

A handful of Manitoba economic groups are helping connect skilled Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion with local employers. 2:38