The first refugees from the war in Ukraine are slowly settling into life in Langford, as fighting continues to rage at home.
One of them is 26-year-old Artem, whose last name has been withheld for reasons of privacy and the safety of his family in Ukraine. Artem arrived in Langford on April 28 from the Donbas region of Ukraine, which has become the epicentre of the war in recent weeks, with Russia focusing its attacks there to capture key territory.
Artem was forced to flee from the area, along with his brother who has also come to the West Shore as a refugee. While Artem has him close by, his parents weren’t able to leave Ukraine
“I am every day nervous about my parents,” said Artem.
His throat catches and he has to turn away and cut off the interview, tears welling in his eyes. It’s the first time during the brief conversation that reveals how the situation at home impacts him.
Artem is clearly nervous to talk to journalists, in part because he’s still learning English – occasionally he needs a question rephrased. Although hesitant at first, he agrees to an interview, saying he wants to represent the Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in the area, since he was one of the first to come here.
Despite the language barrier, he’s composed and confident – in a clean white shirt with a small blue and yellow Ukraine pin – a physical symbol of the resilience that his country has shown these past months. He stands in front of cameras as he details the challenges his compatriots are facing back home.
“Many people have problems with clean water. Many people have health … problems or need drugs. First aid help is also necessary because many people have injuries during the situation. It’s a difficult area because in any moment anywhere, you can die.”
Talking about the help he and other refugees have received here in Canada brings a slight smile to his face.
“Here (there’s) brilliant helping for Ukrainian people. Sometimes I can’t imagine (how) I got a lot of help from kind people. (Here it’s) a more friendly atmosphere for local life … more calm.”
Despite worrying about his family back home, he seems glad to be able to return to a massively altered but slight sense of normalcy.
Artem is a registered nurse and worked as a massage therapist in Ukraine before the war broke out, and has already found a job in the West Shore. Langford Fire Chief Chris Aubrey, who’s also on the Langford Supports Ukraine committee said Artem hoped to go on a ride-along with the fire crews and that they’d discussed options for medical training in Canada.
Artem and his brother are among around 30 Ukrainian refugees who’ve arrived in the West Shore. Of those, some are individuals and some came as families.
Langford Supports Ukraine, the city’s fundraising campaign, has been helping Artem and other recent arrivals settle into their new home. The campaign raised money in order to offer support to refugees once they arrived in the community. The committee has provided refugees with funding, food, and assistance in setting up social insurance numbers, medical services, bank accounts, getting daycare and finding jobs, said Shannon Russell Willing, chair of the committee.
“Honestly, I’ve worked in government for decades and decades, and these processes are not easy for people who have lived here for a long time, let alone those who have language challenges and have come to a new country with virtually nothing.”
Since it was announced in April, the Langford Supports Ukraine campaign has expanded its efforts to sending funds to Ukrainian refugees stuck in the country. The campaign has raised over $500,000 in total, including a $150,000 grant from GlobalMedic. Langford Mayor Young said the total fundraising figure could climb to above a million.
Artem explained this kind of funding and support is vital.
“Nowadays, it’s necessary because many people can’t live in their homes or apartments because some of our houses are destroyed.”