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Comment: Big promises and small deliveries for Ukrainians arriving on Vancouver Island

The writer is president of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Victoria and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Victoria branch.
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Greater Victoria’s Ukrainian Cultural Centre on Douglas Street. GOOGLE STREET VIEW

In the past weeks, approximately 300 Ukrainians fleeing war have arrived on Vancouver Island. Our community has opened their homes and their hearts to these people, and we are grateful for their generosity and support. From donations provided by the Times Colonist Christmas Fund to individual hosts providing free food and shelter, Islanders have shown the world that they support Ukraine.

As a result, I believe we need to share the reality of what is happening on the ground and where this money is going.

As readers know, the Vancouver Island is one of the most expensive places to live in Canada. Housing is difficult to find and food prices are rising. Most Ukrainians arrive with little in the way of financial resources and while most have work permits, it takes time to get on their feet.

While the federal government has been quick to promise 14-day hotel stays and a weekly stipend to help with costs, we have yet to see any of this emerge. Likewise, the settlement agencies that would normally help newcomers with English classes and other settlement services have yet to receive any of the federal funding promised in March to provide said services to Ukrainians. This has left a big hole, one that as a small, volunteer-run organization, we can only partially fill.

But the biggest problem is the cost of the mandatory medical exam, complete with required X-rays and blood work, and paid out of pocket at a minimum of $300 to $400 per person.

What this means, in reality, is that for a family of four, instead of spending $1,200 to $1,600 on a month’s rent or food, that money is going to a private doctor, private X-ray clinic, and private laboratory.

On Thursday, we hosted a pop-up services event for arriving Ukrainians involving several branches of the provincial and federal government. One of our volunteers raised this concern to a government agent. The volunteer was told, “Don’t worry, the Ukrainian Cultural Centre is covering the cost.”

To be clear, the volunteer-run, non-profit, Ukrainian Cultural Centre is hosting fundraisers and accepting donations from the community. We have received zero dollars in government funding.

Yes, this is a cost we have committed to covering for those who can’t afford it, but it means we can’t pay for other things that people desperately need.

The $100,000 that the Times Colonist Christmas Fund generously donated? We would love to spend that money paying people’s first month’s rent or stocking fridges with groceries.

But instead, most of it will likely go to covering privately paid medical exams that should be covered by the federal government that is mandating them.

We beg all levels of government to work together to eliminate this significant financial burden on Ukrainians. We also call on the federal government to fulfill the promises they made to Ukrainians arriving under Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel.

Islanders have stepped up to support Ukrainians. We call on the federal government to ensure that this support is able to go where it’s needed most.