Two Ukrainian families who moved to the village in the spring are settling into the community and expressing appreciation for the welcome they’ve received.
Mayor Al Raine and community member Jim Alix led the way to coordinate support for these families through Sun Peaks Community Helps. The organization was initially created to provide pandemic support, but has since been put towards helping Ukrainians find refuge.
Raine said there has also been overwhelming community support — a testament the families seconded.
The Osipov family was the first to arrive, consisting of Alex, Nataliia and daughters Christina and Sandra.
“We are very good. We like it here,” Alex said. With previous casino experience, Alex has been primarily working at a casino in Kamloops. He has also been doing car detailing as a side job for Sun Peaks community members out of the Cahilty Lodge garage.
Anyone who is interested in getting their car cleaned can call Alex at (778) 694-5394.
Next to arrive was the Barbakadze family, made up of Liza, Davit and son Luka. Davit has been working for A&T Project Developments on a construction site on the mountain.
Liza said her family is very happy to be here. “Sun Peaks’ community has really made us feel at home,” she said.
Raine said the community has supported in a number of ways, from donating accommodation to smaller gestures like food baskets.
There were even enough resources gathered for a third family to move to the community, but it now seems they will be unable to come because of the difficult application process.
Members of the third Ukrainian family are cousins of local resident Caroline Thompson. She explained the mother has been staying in Poland with her two children, while her husband and eldest son are stuck in Ukraine because they must fight in the war.
After raising over $5,000 in a fundraiser, Thompson travelled to Poland in April to do humanitarian work and assist her cousin’s family. While there, she helped her fill out the Canadian Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) application.
“Me being born and raised Canadian, I found it to be quite difficult,” Thompson said. “There were so many different ambiguous questions. For someone with [English as a second language] or limited English, I actually don’t know how people would have filled it out themselves.”
Thompson said the family submitted the application at the end of April, but there have been a number of hurdles since then.
Since Thompson’s cousin-in-law must stay in Ukraine, the CUAET application requires a signed letter from him authorizing his wife and children to travel to Canada. However, he is the chief of police for northern Ukraine currently fighting on the front lines, so he is unreachable.
“That’s where the bureaucracy of these requirements of this application started to really set in, where it was so disconnected with the reality of what these people are facing,” Thompson said. “We’re not talking about a refugee coming from political upheaval, we’re talking about full blown war.”
The family also had to travel to the other side of Poland to provide biometrics for the application. Following the appointment, the mother was supposed to send her passport back to the embassy for them to hold onto for up to two months.
Thompson said her cousin didn’t feel comfortable sending away her passport because as a refugee, that is currently the only way she has to identify herself. Due to these factors, the family is still in Poland.
“All the money, all the resources — everything is all in place. But where’s the people? How do we get the people here?” Thompson said.
“I’m so heartwarmed by our community and how quickly people mobilized and opened their hearts. And not just their wallets, but their homes even. To see that, and then to experience this bureaucratic delay … Not only are we devastated, her kids are devastated.”
The Osipov and Barbakadze families had unique circumstances that allowed both fathers to travel with their families. Kamloops Immigrant Services told SPIN as of August 13, there have been 83 Ukrainian families that have moved to the region.
“I feel very grateful that these families have been able to utilize the resources that our government has put in place,” Thompson said.
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