A couple were the first two of 230 Ukrainian citizens to arrive and now call Saskatchewan home.
A humanitarian flight from Warsaw, Poland carrying mostly women, children, and the elderly touched down at the Regina International Airport just before 7:30 p.m. Monday.
This was the first charter flight with displaced Ukrainians on it to travel directly in Saskatchewan. Previous charter flights have brought Ukrainians to the province from cities including Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal and Moncton.
Elena Krueger, the president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) Saskatchewan, had a message for all those who stepped off the plane.
“We are very pleased and very happy to welcome our dear Ukrainian friends, family, and relatives to Canada, and specifically to Saskatchewan. We hope that they will find Saskatchewan a place of refuge and of peace and we welcome them with all of our hearts.”
She added that the UCC has had all kinds of people step up and offer financial support, as well as jobs and homes to those coming to the province.
Mayor Sandra Masters said watching the plane touchdown; it was hard not to think about what brought the Ukrainian citizens to the Queen City.
“I don’t think anyone could watch that plane; those folks start to come off that plane and see those young children and not think about the circumstances that have caused them to be on that plane,” she said. “For all of us who take our country of peace and freedom for granted, I think that’s a stark message. Four months ago, they were living lives just like we were living.”
“We are happy and proud to be a place of safety and of refuge and care, but also very conscious of the circumstances of which they are here,” she continued.
Masters said they hope they make their lives filled with a little pain and uncertainty and show them the spirit of generosity that Regina and Saskatchewan carry.
Also on the flight was Phan Thị Kim Phuc. Phuc was the girl in the famous 1972 Vietnam napalm attack photo. A photo which was on the side of the plane accompanied by the words ‘No War’.
Phuc, who has once been in a very similar situation to the Ukrainian citizens, is a first-hand example of hope.
“50 years ago, I was a victim of war, and I survived,” she said. “I want to send a message to people right now, want to encourage them, never take it for granted and every day open their minds to learn. It’s a new place, new life, and people in Canada will always have the heart to help them.”
The passengers will now stay at the University of Regina for the next two weeks to find more permanent housing.
Terry Dennis, the MLA for Canora-Pelly and Legislative Secretary Responsible for Saskatchewan Ukraine Relations, said overall it was a day full of emotion but now work turns to settle them.
“We have a team that is going to try and find housing for them and integrate them into a Ukrrinain area,” Dennis said.
A settlement reception centre, with translators available, has been set up and will provide on-site personnel who can issue Saskatchewan health cards, assist with setting up bank accounts, provide information about housing, employment, education, income assistance, community support and more.
He added that residents will be placed all over the province and that there is no timeframe on how long the citizens plan to stay, but noted they are welcome to call the Land of the Living Skies home.
With the arrival of this flight, more than 1,000 displaced Ukrainians have arrived in Saskatchewan since the conflict began.
The flight from Warsaw was donated and coordinated by Open Arms, a humanitarian organization working to support the Ukrainian people.
When the plane makes the trip back to Poland, it will contain non-perishable food items, sleeping bags, medical supplies and other in-demand cargo donated by the Saskatchewan government.