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National Volunteer Week: Welcoming Ukrainians to Canada

Volunteer translators step up for refugees
2304 VolunteerWeek 8236 km
WELCOME WAGON — Volunteers Natalie Korpan (left) and Nataliia Iashnikova (right) are working with Muna Abdulhussain (centre) of St. Albert Further Education to help Ukrainian refugees settle in St. Albert. Korpan and Iashnikova are both originally from Ukraine and act as translators and drivers. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

Natalie Korpan said she wasn’t totally surprised when Russia invaded her homeland of Ukraine on Feb. 24 — the troops had been massing on the border for weeks. What shocked her was the extent of the conflict.

“I just didn’t think they were going to bomb the entire Ukraine,” she said, adding that she had many friends and relatives there.

Korpan is one of the many St. Albert volunteers helping refugees from the war in Ukraine adapt to lives in Canada. She and other volunteers are being recognized April 24-30 as part of National Volunteer Week.

Korpan and fellow volunteer Nataliia Iashnikova said they have spent several hours a day in recent months serving as advisors, translators, and drivers for Ukrainian refugees in St. Albert.

“It’s normal to help people, especially when there’s such a big trouble,” said Iashnikova, when asked why she had put in those volunteer hours.

And it feels good to help someone out, Korpan added.

“It’s not always about taking. It’s also about giving.”

A time of need

Korpan and Iashnikova are two of the six Ukrainian translators on call with St. Albert Further Education, said Muna Abdulhussain, who runs the organization’s Newcomer Connection program (which aims to connect newcomers to Canada with community resources).

Roughly 5.1 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the invasion, the United Nations reported April 21. A significant number of them are expected to come to Canada and Alberta, which has a large Ukrainian community. Roughly 10 families had reached St. Albert as of last week, Abdulhussain said.

While young students know a bit of it, many Ukrainians are not fluent in English, said Korpan and Iashnikova. That’s an issue for many refugee families, who need to be able to speak and read English to get jobs, social insurance numbers, and even navigate the Edmonton International Airport.

“Without English, you couldn’t do anything,” Iashnikova said.

Korpan and Iashnikova said they and other volunteers man a booth at the Edmonton International Airport to welcome refugees as they arrive. They drive families to stores and registries — refugees must wait a year before getting an Alberta driver’s licence unless they have an international one, Abdulhussain noted — and translate for them during meetings. They also keep abreast of Canada’s policies for Ukrainian refugees and answer questions about Canada from inbound families over social media.

Refugees from Ukraine need food, homes, clothes, jobs, schools, doctors, and more on arrival, and typically have at most a bag’s worth of belongings with them, said Korpan and Abdulhussain. SIM cards for phones are also in demand for families to reach relatives still overseas.

“The community has been very, very helpful,” Abdulhussain said, with many people requesting and providing aid through the St. Albert Hosts Ukrainians Facebook page.

In addition to translators, Abdulhussain said the volunteer community is looking for drivers. She hopes the City of St. Albert will step up to co-ordinate a volunteer driver program and help track and vet host families for refugees.

Volunteers can also act as tutors or hosts, Korpan said. Some are doing so despite not speaking Ukrainian, with some using Google Translate to compensate.

Abdulhussain said people interested in helping refugees from Ukraine can visit the St. Albert Hosts Ukrainians page or the Support Ukraine group, the latter of which meets Saturdays at the St. Albert Public Library at 10:30 a.m.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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