‘It was really emotional’: Calgary host family encourages more people to offer places to those fleeing war

Dozens of people fleeing the war in Ukraine were at a Calgary church on Saturday getting help and meeting new friends.

Kate Podolska arrived in Calgary from Ukraine Friday night, alone with only her suitcase. She doesn’t know anyone in Calgary and she’s staying with a person she’s never met before.

“I’m confused. I don’t know anybody here and I don’t have family, but I met a lot of good people here,” said Podolska, who left her job at a University in Kharkiv. Her husband remains in Poland, trying to get his papers to come to Canada.

Read more: ‘My city is almost destroyed’: Ukrainian refugees welcomed at Bowness Park in Calgary

Podolska said it’s a relief to escape Kharkiv, where she had been seeking shelter in a metro station for several weeks.

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On Saturday she was at St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox church picking up donated items and getting accustomed to her new life in Calgary.

“It’s a great relief because you meet people and you talk in your native language and some basic things that you can get here because, of course, you cannot take much with you,” Podolska said.

This is the second weekend the Centre for Newcomers has been at St. Vladimir’s church offering help to recent arrivals from Ukraine.

Staff with Centre for Newcomers said donated household items are needed as well as places to stay.

“We do need more billets. We need more hotel partners. That’s not just for Ukrainians,” said Jon Yee, vice president of strategy for the centre. “We are still in an Afghan crisis. We are still taking in Syrians. It’s nonstop crisis for a lot of places right now.”

“A lot of people are coming with no supports, just the clothes on their backs.  All these organizations here in Calgary and around Alberta are just hustling to try to help everybody,” Yee added.

Read more: Calgary woman takes in niece and nephew as sister defends home in Ukraine

Susan Homik was volunteering at the church on Saturday. She hosted a mother and her two boys from Ukraine for three weeks.

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“At first it was really emotional, seeing the relief in their eyes that they had somewhere safe and secure to stay. We really enjoyed the little boys because our boys are teenagers now so it was nice having these little boys in the house even though they didn’t speak English. Google translate was our savior,” Homik said.

Homik said last week the young family moved into a Calgary apartment donated to them for an entire year.

She encourages anyone who is feeling helpless and who has the space to consider being a host.

“I felt very blessed that I was able to aid somebody in need. I felt very helpless and it made me understand a lot more about their struggles as well.  It was lovely learning new dishes.  We got their kids in rolled in school. There’s four other Ukrainian families in the school they are going to which is fabulous for those boys who don’t speak English yet,” Homik said.

Through the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET), Ukrainian nationals and their family members can apply for a temporary resident visa to travel to and stay in Canada.

Between March 17 and May 4  204,227 applications for temporary resident visas were received and 91,482 have been approved.

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