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Donations dry up for Victoria group helping Ukrainians ‘arriving with 1 suitcase’

Families can access up to $400 in groceries and household supplies
Anastaiisa, Bohdan, and Polly Konstantynova arrived in Canada in 2022, with just one suitcase. Anastaiisa now works with Help Ukraine Vancouver Island. (Anastaiisa Konstantynova)

Since arriving in Canada from Ukraine almost a year ago, Anastaiisa Konstantynova says she, her husband Bohdan, and their daughter Polly have had excellent luck.

Bohdan got work as a tiler and she got a job at a daycare centre as an assistant in Greater Victoria.

“I had a part-time job so I had two jobs and then I finished my daycare career and received a full-time job here at Help Ukraine Vancouver Island,” she said.

Help Ukraine Vancouver Island runs a food program that gives away around $400 per family per month to families in need.

Help Ukraine Vancouver Island is mainly made up of 600 volunteers and helps newcomers get settled on Vancouver Island, she said.

“When you come here and you have only one suitcase of your things, it can be heartbreaking for lots of people and they really need assistance.”

It is the 18-month anniversary of the organization’s food share program, and there is a sense that people are starting to get fatigued with the Ukrainian conflict, said Karmen McNamara, general manager of Help Ukraine Vancouver Island.

“We’re not getting nearly the donations that we were at first, which makes it more challenging to run the program because, of course, these things cost money,” said McNamara.

The Ukrainians who arrive in Canada are not considered refugees and do not get the entitlements that one would receive if they were, said McNamara, as people are here on work permits.

“Objectively, Ukrainian refugees in Canada are not provided with the funds they need to feed their children,” she said.

A lot of the people who Help Ukraine Vancouver Island assists are single mothers and struggling families who came to Canada with one suitcase, she said.

The area that has seen the most prominent hit due to war fatigue is that of people willing to be host families, as the number is starting to dwindle.

There are about 1,360 Ukrainians in Victoria, and many who come here may require McNamara’s organization’s services.

“We have volunteers doing things like managing our Facebook page and doing the data admin. We have volunteers who write the newsletter,” said McNamara. “And I’ll be honest: I am a volunteer. I’m not paid.”

Help Ukraine Vancouver Island will host different food share programs around the island, with the next one taking place on Oct. 18., at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Saanich.

“Week after week after week, 300 of our most vulnerable families go home with groceries,” she said.

Migrating to Canada can be daunting for those from different cultural backgrounds, as adjusting to new norms and practises can be difficult. Many Ukrainians face this challenge, according to Konstantynova.

“Most of the Ukrainians have good degrees, good education. But when you come here and even if you can speak excellent English, it’s still hard to get a qualified job,” Konstantynova said.

Ukrainians can apply to the Canadian government to get a grant of $3,000 per adult and $1,000 per child, but that quickly disappears after factoring in a month’s rent and groceries, she said.

“When you have nothing and need everything, rent is expensive.”

Konstantynova was originally from the Donestk region and studied at university when the war broke out in 2014.

She lived in that region for another nine months before moving to Kyiv with her boyfriend, now husband, and lived there until 2022.

“But then we packed everything in one suitcase, moved to a different city, and built up our life again because we didn’t have anything left.”

Konstantynova had lived in a dangerous conflict zone for a long time, but it was only once Polly, their daughter, was born that they decided to go to Canada.

“Children change everything,” she said.

For Konstantynova and her husband, their home for now, and hopefully forever, will be in Canada, as this was something they had planned for five years.

“We wouldn’t return there. Not because we don’t love our country, just because we have been preparing for immigration to Canada,” she said.

For now, Konstantynova wants to keep helping people through Help Ukraine Vancouver Island.

“We’re going to have a lot more new arrivals. So we definitely need to exist,” she said.

READ MORE: Ukrainian society in Victoria celebrates 45 years with Oak Bay event

About the Author: Thomas Eley

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