Close to 20,000 Ukrainians have come to Manitoba since the war with Russia began, nearly all of them greeted in their native language by volunteers at the Winnipeg airport.
However, the non-profit organization behind that airport welcome desk has had to shut it down for the time being.
For the past 18 months, the Manitoba chapter of the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress (UCC) has been staffing a welcome desk at the James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, greeting Ukrainian refugees as they arrived in Manitoba after fleeing their war-torn country.
“The airport authority understood they were going to be seeing a lot of arrivals, many of whom don’t speak English. And they reached out to us to see if we could provide this service,” said Ostap Skrypnyk with the UCC.
More than 300 volunteers have provided Ukrainian refugees with valuable local information, helped arrange accommodations, and answered basic questions about what they could expect here in Winnipeg.
“It really was crucial for people as they came off the plane,” Skrypnyk said.
Valentina Kulyk’s journey started in Kyiv, then she went to Frankfurt, Germany. From there, Kulyk flew to Vancouver and finally Winnipeg.
“It was so difficult,” she said.
But things got a lot easier when she and a friend arrived in Winnipeg’s airport to Skrypnyk greeting them in their native language.
“I am happy because it’s like a small part of my home,” Kulyk said.
The welcome desk will now be unattended going forward. Skrypnyk said they’ve been having trouble keeping the desk staffed, especially as the volume of Ukrainian refugees has slowed.
“We were staffing this place for you know 16 hours a day and it was very difficult to keep that tempo of commitment up,” said Skrypnyk.
However he added that it’s not an end to the welcome desk, it’s more of a pause.
Skrypnyk says if there’s a surge in Ukrainian newcomers, they’ll be back in person, offering help and a welcoming face to the new arrivals.
Officials say they’re expecting another spike of people arriving in the spring.
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