Chris Johnston is flying the Ukraine flag on the pole in the front of his home in Maple Ridge until the war comes to an end. (Colleen Flanagan/The News)

Chris Johnston is flying the Ukraine flag on the pole in the front of his home in Maple Ridge until the war comes to an end. (Colleen Flanagan/The News)

Maple Ridge committee now helping 31 people from Ukraine

Group expects numbers to rise as more flights from Europe organized

Sixteen families from war-torn Ukraine, comprising a total of 31 people, have now made their own way to Maple Ridge and are being assisted by the Ridge Meadows Ukrainian Welcoming Committee.

Those people are staying with family and friends, but at some point, as the numbers grow, arriving refugees will be relying on donated spare basement suites, rooms, homes or apartments that the committee has lined up in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

“We have every reason to believe there’s going to be more, because of the sheer numbers of them,” committee chair Tom Bowen, said Thursday.

Currently, 14 host families or homes are ready to receive refugees.

“If a Ukrainian family came to us now with a backpack and cellphone, we could help them,” Bowen said.

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According to the UN Refugee Agency, as of May 18, more than six million Ukrainians have fled the country since Russia invaded on Feb. 24. About 3.4 million of those went to Poland.

Some Ukrainians are returning home, but the UN said the situation there is too unstable to make any conclusions about immigration or refugee trends.

Although churches in Metro Vancouver are helping refugees, Bowen said he doesn’t know of any other group in the region that’s doing what the Ridge Meadows Ukrainian Welcoming Committee is doing, although that’s possible.

The committee has about 20 members, with each responsible for an area such as housing, jobs, food, translation, legal advice, education, immigration matters, and even providing trauma therapy to those affected by the war.

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People learn about the group through word of mouth or its Facebook page.

“People just want to step up and help. All you have to do is watch five minutes of the newscast and if you’re not affected by it, there’s something wrong with you,” Bowen said.

The federal government has created the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel program, which gives refugees visitors visas, which can be valid for 10 years. Under the program, people can also apply for a work permit simultaneously, and a study permit, once they arrive.People can then later apply for permanent residency, if they don’t return home.

Host families who provide accommodation can get access to donated clothing, along with groceries from the Friends in Need Food Bank, said committee administrator Mary Robson.

WorkBC in Maple Ridge is helping newcomers line up entry-level jobs, then will help them transition to more career-related occupations.

Robson said she hasn’t heard yet if a federally sponsored flight filled with refugees is destined to land in Vancouver.

“But when that happens, we’re going to be inundated, I think,” she said.

So far, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has organized three charter flights, two of which are landing this month in Winnipeg, Man., and Montreal, Que., while the third lands in June, in Halifax, N.S. Newfoundland and Labrador organized a charter flight that landed at the beginning of May.

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