A Ukrainian girl from Kharkiv looks out a train window bound for Warsaw, Poland, with people fleeing the Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. CNS photo/Hannah McKay, Reuters

Archdiocese to resettle refugees fleeing Ukraine

By  Susan Korah, Catholic Register Special
  • April 9, 2022

The Office for Refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto (ORAT) is in discussion with Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox Church officials to coordinate a program that would see Toronto parishioners host Ukrainian families fleeing the war in their homeland.

“The suffering of the Ukrainian people has rightfully caught the attention of those living all around the world. In times of injustice, we Christians are called to pray for those most in need and to offer our assistance however we can. Many Catholics want to help Ukrainians who were driven from their homes and to support those people in starting a new life here in Canada,” said Cardinal Thomas Collins in an e-mail to The Catholic Register.

Deacon Rudy Ovcjak, director of ORAT, is working with the Ukrainian churches to respond to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Ukraine — which has spilled over into neighouring countries such as Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova since Russian forces invaded Ukraine Feb. 24. Refugees would be travelling to Canada under the federal government’s new expedited visa process.

“We are working with His Grace Andriy Peshko, Bishop of Toronto and of the Eastern Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, and with Fr. Tom Hrywna of Sts. Vladimir and Olga Ukrainian Catholic Church, Windsor, Ont., to establish an emergency program to help parishioners of the Latin rite, Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches who wish to sponsor a family member that has fled Ukraine,” said Ovcjak.

The Parishioner Sponsored Family Program is meant for Ukrainians who have relatives in Canada, said Ovcjak.

For another program, the Parish Sponsorship of a Ukrainian Family (sponsoring a stranger program), ORAT will conduct mission trips to Ukraine’s neighbouring countries and will select families that have no relatives or connections in Canada, he said.

“These families will be matched with parishes throughout the archdiocese who wish to sponsor a family. Funds are available for this, but we encourage fundraising efforts by participating parishes,” he said.

The hosting and fundraising programs would fill a dire need for thousands of Ukrainians, Ovcjak said. The refugee crisis shows no signs of slowing down, and any peace agreement still appears to be a long way off.

According to two UN agencies, UNHCR and UNICEF, more than four million people have fled Ukraine since fighting began. UNICEF stated in a recent media release that children make up half of all the refugees and that an estimated two million have fled across borders to neighbouring countries.

Men of military age are not allowed to leave Ukraine, so the tidal wave of refugees is overwhelmingly dominated by the most vulnerable — women, children, the elderly and the disabled.

“Helping them through these programs and praying for them is all we can do,” Ovcjak said.

Ovcjak said Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the federal government department responsible for refugees, has yet to establish a refugee settlement pathway for Ukrainians, but has set up an expedited travel visa program that gives them the opportunity to stay in Canada for two years.   

“It is helpful that the Government of Canada has allowed Ukrainians fleeing this crisis to access temporary visas in Canada,” Collins said.

“However, if the situation in Ukraine deteriorates further, we would urge the government to allow Ukrainians who are unable to return to their homes to come to Canada as refugees.”

Ovcjak said that although the planning of these hosting family programs is in its early states, parishioners are advised to indicate their interest by sending an e-mail to oratrefugeeoffice@archtoronto.org.

Another ORAT initiative is the Ukrainian Relief Fund which has been established to help suffering Ukrainians, with funds directed to ORAT and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) to provide humanitarian aid and pay for refugee settlement, he said.

Parishioners can donate through their own parish or online at archtoronto.org

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