CANADA Sask. preparation of a charter flight to deliver...

Sask. preparation of a charter flight to deliver fleeing Ukrainians to Regina

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A woman stands with bags and suitcases as refugees from Ukraine wait for a bus after crossing the Ukrainian-Polish border at a border crossing in Medyka, southeastern Poland April 8. (Wojtek Radwański/AFP/Getty Images)

The government of Saskatchewan is preparing for a charter flight from Poland’s capital Warsaw to Regina to bring about 230 evacuees from Ukraine to the province.

Immigration and Training Minister Jeremy Harrison said there is flexibility on arrival but the target date is July 4.

“We have made our open door policy very clear regarding the resettlement of an unlimited number of Ukrainians who wish to move to Canada,” he said.

“Since February 24, about 600 people have arrived in Saskatchewan from Ukraine in various ways.”

The government said the estimated number is based on multiple sources, including the federal immigration office, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Canadian Red Cross.

Sask. Immigration Minister Jeremy Harrison says the government has been flexible when it comes to changing rules and speeding up the issuance of medical cards and driver’s licenses for those arriving from Ukraine. (Matt Dugid/CBC)

Harrison said the Canadian government was disappointed as the original plan was to make Saskatchewan one of the destinations for three federal evacuation flights who arrived from Ukraine at the end of May.

“The federal government diverted this flight from Saskatchewan after we were told it was due here,” he said.

“We were very disappointed with this, especially considering that many people who landed in places like Montreal have since moved to Saskatchewan at their own expense after landing in those places.”

He said this prompted the government to “engage with Ukraine on a bilateral basis” to secure a charter flight to Saskatchewan.

The government will coordinate with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, settlement organizations and other community partners to fill the flight.

Relocation services available

Harrison said the government changed some of the rules, removing “bureaucracy and bureaucracy” to expedite the issuance of medical cards and driver’s licenses.

Any newcomer with a valid Ukrainian driver’s license can transfer it “immediately” to the rights of Saskatchewan.

“We have created a round-the-clock help line for newly arrived Ukrainian refugees. We are engaging with our business community to make sure those who want to enter the labor market immediately can do so.”

Support, such as help opening bank accounts for newcomers, will be arranged at Regina International Airport.

While the government is still working on logistical details, Harrison said transportation to other locations such as Saskatoon will be provided.

Free hotel stays and mid-term housing solutions, easier access to income support and other employment opportunities will also be provided.

“We want this to be a smooth and easy process as these people have been affected by really difficult circumstances both in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world.”

Harrison said the government is well prepared to help transition newcomers, including financial support, and that they are working on plans to support people arriving with pets.

Hundreds of Ukrainians who arrived earlier this year are already working in the region, he said.

“That’s what we want them to be safe and successful here,” he said. “Ultimately, if they choose Saskatchewan as their permanent home, we welcome that as a positive.”

Additional support provided

In March, Saskatchewan’s party government provided $335,000 to support IDPs for Ukrainian families who had fled their country.

This initial funding went to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) in Saskatchewan to hire three resettlement coordinators in Saskatoon and two in Regina.

Danilo Puderak, chief executive of UCC Saskatchewan, said they were involved in pre-planning for the charter flight with the government.

Daniil Puderak, executive director of the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress in Saskatchewan, says the community has supported him. (Presented by Danila Puderak)

He said efforts are being made to coordinate with resettlement organizations to ensure that new arrivals have access to language courses and mental health services.

“Arriving Ukrainians will have full access to all programs funded by the province,” Puderak said.

UCC will assist prospective passengers with support such as transfers as they go through procedures such as medical checks at the airport. Puderak said they will put the newcomers in touch with clergy and other community members who can help set up.

Puderak said they have served more than 200 customers between the two cities so far.

“Each client will represent an individual or a family. More than 200 will represent about 500 real people. Ukrainians are settling in large and small communities throughout the region.”

Speaking of community support, Puderak said hundreds of families have offered their homes to new arrivals. They are working on screening and testing such families.

He said the number of new arrivals was “initially small” but has surged in recent months due to emergency travel permits from Canada and Ukraine.

Under this stream from March 17 to June 8 Canada received 296,163 applications and 131,763 Ukrainian applicants approved so far.

“Those early applications that were approved are now starting to come in,” he said.

“We are ready to help. We are working day and night to help people who are fleeing the war zone find shelter here.”

Puderak said that newcomers should consider Saskatchewan as a place of residence because, in addition to sufficient support, it is an affordable place to live.

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