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Single moms head most Ukrainian refugee families arriving in Burnaby

Of 16 families that have come to the Burnaby school district since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 14 are headed by single mothers with husbands and other family still in the war-torn country.
The Burnaby school district is making plans for the arrival of refugees from Ukraine.

More refugees from the war in Ukraine have arrived at Burnaby schools, and the school district’s settlement workers are there to help.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, 16 families have arrived in the district.

Fourteen of them are headed by single mothers with husbands and other family members still in Ukraine, according to Natalya Khan, coordinator of the Burnaby school district’s Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS) program.

“They are all very worried about what is happening back in Ukraine,” she said “This worry affects everything. But the Ukrainian community here is rallying around them like we’ve never seen before and has stepped up big time … The number of people who have come forward to offer support is incredible.”

Among the newcomers who have recently arrived in Burnaby from Ukraine are five high school students, 12 elementary students and two children who will be ready for kindergarten in September.

The SWIS program has helped get the kids signed up for school, including summer school classes, summer camps, tutoring, school programs and activities.

For their parents, the program has gotten district information leaflets translated into Ukrainian, greeted each family and personally welcomed them to the school district, according to Khan.

The program, which is funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, has also helped families with a myriad of other things unrelated to school, including everything from English language classes to signing up for MSP and finding daycare.

Next Wednesday, the program is hosting an online session with Service Canada, so newcomers can get information directly from the source about social insurance numbers, the Canada child benefit and other services and benefits.

In early June, the newcomers from Ukraine will be invited on a field trip to Belcarra Regional Park with other families in the SWIS program.

Two families from Ukraine have already signed up, according to Khan.

“These families are very new,” she said. “They left everything behind in Ukraine and all of them are experiencing financial hardships. The opportunity to go to a place like Belcarra Park isn’t something they would be able to do by themselves. This exposes them to the beauty of British Columbia – it’s the slogan on our licence plates, but to see it and to be immersed in it, yourself, is something else and strengthens the connection they feel to where they are living now. There is also a therapeutic effect to being outside. And they are together with other newcomer families – not necessarily from their own culture, so it gives them bigger exposure and connections. It is a joyful day out in nature, where people bring food for picnics, the children are playing outside and friendships are made.”

On May 11, IRCC announced Canada was chartering three flights from Poland to Canada in the coming weeks for Ukrainians fleeing the war in their country, and Khan said she expects to see more families arrive in the district in the coming weeks and months.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor