By Cal Braid
On the one year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Province pledged new funding to assist Ukrainian evacuees in Alberta. The infusion of $7 million in additional funding will be directed towards settlement programs. The announcement was held in Vegreville and led by Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, parliamentary secretary for Ukrainian Refugee Settlement,
Rajan Sawhney, Minister of Trade, Immigration, and Multiculturalism, opened by saying, “It’s wonderful to see so many people here today, including those who have recently arrived in our province. We’re so glad to welcome you and offer you protection and a safe place where you can rebuild. Millions of Ukrainians had to drop everything, leaving behind their homes, their possessions, their jobs, their schools, and much, much worse: their family and friends.” She said that Canadian agencies have done an “extraordinary job” of helping newcomers when they arrive. The practical details of relocating to a country that speaks another language are many: enrolling in school and language classes, finding work, arranging childcare, and accessing health care, emergency accommodations, and financial support. “As part of Budget 2023, the Alberta government is pledging $7 million over three years for settlement and language programming. The funds include $3 million over the next two years and $1 million in 2025. It would ensure Ukrainian newcomers have the skills and language support needed for successful settlement and integration in our province,” Sawhney said. “Whether they are here for the short term or the long term, we want newcomers in Alberta to know that they are welcome and that they are supported.”
Oleksandr Danyleiko, consul general of Ukraine in Edmonton took the podium and said, “Today is a sad day for all Ukrainians. Today marks one year of the beginning of this brutal, unjustified, and unprovoked Russian aggression. They thought they could take us in three days; now (it’s been) 365 days of our resistance, our fight, and our bravery to win and to liberate our land. Unfortunately, thousands of people were killed already in Ukraine by Russians.” He asked for a moment of silence before saying that thousands, including women, children, and peaceful Ukrainians are still dying due to the shelling and bombing of their cities. Millions have fled in search of a safe place, and thousands have found that place in Canada. “I’m really grateful from the bottom of my heart, from our government to Alberta’s, (who) supports Ukrainians and provides for them. You can imagine the feeling they have; leaving the country, leaving loved ones, leaving their home and going to a place they don’t know. So, thank you very much.”
Jeremy Nixon, Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services, gave further details of the financial aid along with a call to action. “From the very beginning, Alberta has stood with Ukraine. One year later, we will continue our support. Alberta is home to hundreds of thousands of individuals with Ukrainian descent and it’s why its culture is seen right across the province.” Nixon said that since the conflict began, the province has welcomed more than 22,000 Ukrainians; people who left behind a life that was already established in a nation that is now fighting for its freedom. “We want to help them establish a life here in Alberta for however long it’s needed,” he said. He called the day an opportunity to “celebrate the resiliency and strength of Ukrainians, and the inspiration they give us all.”
Nixon said he constantly meets displaced Ukrainians and thanked Albertans for the love and the support they’ve shown. He relayed a story about his father, who ran a homeless shelter and would often get asked by people, “How do I help?” His dad would reply by saying, “Do you have a spare bedroom? Do you have a basement suite? That’s how you can help.” Nixon said that it’s a “very difficult thing to invite strangers into your home, but that’s what Albertans have done.”
He also praised parliamentary secretary Armstrong-Homeniuk, describing her as “a strong and relentless advocate for Ukrainians arriving in this province.” He then announced that as of Feb. 24, Ukrainian newcomers would have access to the same rent support supplements that all other Albertans have. He announced a $16.7 million dollar increase to the program, of which $6.8 million was made available late this fiscal year. If passed in Budget 2023, the increase would free up $9.9 million more for the rent supplement program. An extension on the Ukrainian Evacuee Emergency Support and Benefits Program will also provide support to eligible applicants until 2024. If passed in Budget 2023, another $3.6 million would be available, mirroring other income support programs in the province.