Displaced by the horrors of war and fearful for the safety of family back home, Ukrainians in the Fredericton capital region are adjusting by embracing a recently formed community collective.
The year-old Ukrainian Association of Fredericton is helping refugees from the war-torn eastern European country adjust by offering guidance and opportunities for growth, despite the fact many are still being haunted by the ongoing Russian invasion of their homeland, a conflict that’s claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Association president Oksana Tesla said much of their efforts are focused on assisting new arrivals.
“We want to help them… to support them as much as we can,” Tesla told New Canadian Media
“We know how it works here and we want to share that information. We want to bring them together and connect them. Many of them came from the same cities, but they may not know (each other). It’s very important to be connected.”
According to the New Brunswick government, the province is home to more than 3,500 Ukrainians.
The Fredericton association has 35 active associates and up to 150 Ukrainian members of the community who can be called upon if needed.
Brian Macdonald, a former Fredericton area MLA, who has worked closely with the city’s immigrant community, said the association may be small in numbers but its impact is mighty.
“Led by a dedicated band of volunteers, they organize events from cultural celebrations to movie nights,” Macdonald said. “They bring newcomers from Ukraine together with established Frederictonians to build our community. They make everyone feel at home.”
Tesla, who arrived in Canada six years ago from Uzhhorod, a Ukrainian city on the border with Slovakia, said members keep a close eye on what is happening back home and share what they know with the community.
“We do not start our day without checking the news,” Tesla, now a Canadian citizen, said. “That’s our reality. We do it and we celebrate some wins when we hear it on the news.”
Tesla said the association has grown to the point where it has gained a positive reputation and is now recognized throughout Fredericton, making it easier to interact with other groups as well as government agencies. It recently had its own booth at a newcomers event organized by Ignite Fredericton.
Over the last few months, Tesla said some Ukrainians, despite the continued fighting, have returned to their home country.
“They were not able to come here with a full family,” she said. “That’s part of the reason and the other side is they didn’t want to immigrate (to begin with). I hear people asking each other if they are planning to go back.”
Roman Tesla, Oksana Tesla’s husband, said the situation for those arriving in Canada is made more difficult because many do not have the proper documents.
“When you are in Ukraine and have a company with 100 employees and you come here, you need to go to a fast food company and prepare stuff in the kitchen,” he said, noting such a reality could encourage some to return home.
When the association originally formed, it concentrated much of its time on collecting financial and physical donations, Tesla said.
“We focused on medical supplies, dry food, children and hygiene stuff,” Tesla said. “We collected it here and organized the shipment to Ukraine through Poland.”
Fundraisers were also held in which money was used to purchase things such as tourniquets and hemostatic bandages directly from a producer in Ukraine.
That has changed with efforts now being focused on the growing Ukrainian community in Fredericton, Tesla said.
According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, this country has provided safe haven to more than 166,000 Ukrainians, since the Russian invasion on Feb. 24 of last year.
This story and photos are part of a partnership between the SaltWire network and New Canadian Media.
Michael Staples is a retired daily newspaper reporter from New Brunswick with more than 30 years experience. He has travelled extensively with Canada’s military and has reported from Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia during the Balkans War and from Haiti in 2004 following a three-week bloody rebellion that saw then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide flee the country. He has also written extensively about Canada's involvement in the Afghanistan War. Michael has considerable experience covering crime, justice and immigration issues. In 1999 he was the lead journalist reporting on the airlift of hundreds of refugees from Kosovo to Canadian Forces Base Gagetown. He has been nominated twice for Atlantic Journalism Awards.