Wawota welcomes first Ukrainian refugee to the southeast community

May 10, 2022, 3:48 pm
Sierra D'Souza Butts, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Kevin Kay of Wawota welcomes Andrii Mishtal to Southeast Saskatchewsn. Mishtal is the first Ukrainian refugee to arrive in the area, and was welcomed at Moosomin’s Ukrainian Fundraiser a couple days after he landed in Saskatchewan.

The community of Wawota has welcomed Ukrainian refugee Andrii Mishtal with open arms.

Wawota’s committee for refugees has been preparing to bring in families and individuals from Ukraine for a while, said Kevin Kay of Wawota. The committee includes several members, brought together by Meredith Swanson. Swanson and Kay travelled to Saskatoon to pick up Andrii from the airport and get some of his initial paperwork done.

“It’s been interesting to see how it has all come together, we knew we were going to be busy for the first couple of days and it’s been a whirlwind for Andrii,” Kay said.

“To stop and think he was in Istanbul last week and all that has transpired now. We spent a couple days in Saskatoon just to get things organized with the Ukrainian Congress, we got his social insurance number, health card, drivers license, all of that done there.

“Now we’ve come down to Wawota to do the fine tuning, the house is ready, he’s spent a couple of nights there and seems to be settling in.”

Kay said from all the fundraising and donations that residents in Wawota have put together, the community was able to fully furnish the house Andrii will be living in.

Andrii’s wife and children are still in Ukraine, waiting to come safely in Canada.

He was able to come ahead of his family because at the time of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Andrii was in Istanbul taking care of his mother’s medical needs.

Kay also said that because Andrii prepared and did all the necessary paperwork when being in Ukraine, it made it easier for his arrival in Canada.

“We knew that once Andrii and his family started to come, there were going to be more refugees starting to come to Canada,” said Kay.

He spoke about what advice he would give to other communities who are in the process of bringing over refugees.

“If Wawota can do it, anyone can do it. From our experience, going through Ukrainian Congress in Saskatoon, they have an office now in Regina and in Saskatoon, it’s been fabulous to work with them,” he said.

“They do all the screening, all the preparation work for them to come to Canada, but for us, what I did is physically go to their office because they are overwhelmed with requests for people to come to Canada.”

He said going to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress before Andrii’s arrival in Canada helped tremendously.

“For us, going there physically helped a lot, by me going up directly to their office and saying we are now ready to bring a family, we got the information from the Mishtals, and that started the ball rolling,” Kay said.

“They saw that we are serious, that we were ready to do it, and now they have started sending us resumes (for more refugees) to consider again.”

Kay spoke about the number of requests the Ukrainian Canadian Congress is receiving.

“A lot of the requests they’re getting from Ukrainians is that they want to stay in the city,” he said.

“But while we were in line at Service Canada, Andrii met Dimitry and he was explaining the difference of immigrating to a small town as oppose to a city, and he said Andrii is doing it right.

“Because what happens in the city is that you have all of the theatres, restaurants, and everything, but there’s no sense of community. You are on your own in the city, but coming to a smaller town you still get all of that stuff, it may mean a 40 minute drive, but you just get used to it because you have the community’s support.

“By letting the Ukrainian Congress in Saskatoon know that we are ready, and willing to do anything that needs to be done, they see the seriousness of it.”

“They connected me with Olina, one of the ladies who work there, and she became the go-between the three of us.”

Since Andrii’s arrival, the committee members have been communicating with him through Google Translate. Although Andrii knows a few words in English, Kay said that has been their main resource for talking with one another.

“Once he got off the plane in Saskatoon, the first trip we made was to the Ukrainian office and then they pointed us in the right direction,” he said.

“We sat down immediately and started filling out health card information, those sorts of things. If I were to give anyone advice about doing this, go to the office, go to Regina, go to Saskatoon, sit with someone and say ‘here we are.’”

Andrii’s experience in Ukraine
Andrii explained what the environment was like while he was living in Ukraine. The World-Spectator used Google Translate to speak with him.

“There have been continuous air-raid alarms on my phone as Russia constantly fires at Kharkiv, Kyiv, Lviv, Mariupol. Rockets were fired at two airfields that are not far from us, one 50 kilometers and the other about 70 kilometers,” Andrii said.

“It was very difficult to leave everything behind. I was head of the land department at my City Council. My wife works as the first deputy head of migration service at home, We had to leave our jobs, our friends, our house. It was very difficult to achieve in this life, and we had to leave it all behind.”

Andrii has been in contact with his wife in Ukraine. He said is expecting his family to arrive in Canada in about a month.
“It should be about 25 to 28 days they should be coming here,” said Kay.

“We haven’t finalized the exact date, but everyone has visas, his wife and children, everything is ready to go. We’re waiting out for the Canadian government, they were talking about putting some flights together and we’re hoping his family can get on one of those flights, to come to Saskatoon.”

Wawota shows unlimited support for Ukrainian refugees
Kay talked about how welcoming and supportive the community of Wawota has been, with bringing refugees from Ukraine.

“The way the committee organized the funds, people are donating to the town, that way they are able to receive receipts, and then the town administers the funds,” Kay said.

“Then they just pass it to us and then we’re able to work with Andrii to get things that he needs, it’s been overwhelming.

“The next steps now is to get ready for the next family, we’ll be working with Andrii to bring friends, to bring family. We’ll continue to do our fundraising, it’s just a matter of putting the word out.

“The way we approached it was that we waited until we knew we had a family coming, then we determined the need after that. In Andrii’s case, we had the house, we had the furniture, we had the dishes, we had the cutlery. Next time, we’ll have a house but maybe no furnishings, because maybe we’ll need things like one single bed, one queen, and we’re able to limit what we get.”

Since the moment Andrii arrived in Canada, Kay has been driving with him to appointments, events and meetings in order to complete the process of him staying here.

Kay was asked why he has dedicated some of his time to helping Andrii and other refugees.

“There’s a number of reasons, one being is because I see the need, when I see what’s going on in Ukraine I want to be able to help as much as I possibly can,” he said.

“There are families there in desperate need and I want to be able to do my best to help them. It’s also a benefit to Wawota and the community as well, because we have jobs that are sitting and waiting, we have opportunities that are available, and I want to be able to help our community too.

“It’s not just me alone either, it’s a whole committee. I’m the one who gets to be with Andrii, but there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes. I get to do the up front things, but I enjoy doing it because this is absolutely what I enjoy doing.”

Kay talked about what it was like when he first contacted Andrii.

“When I got the resume from Ukrainian Congress, I connected with him on Facebook, making that connection with him initially,” he said.

“We initially started with Facebook messenger, but he said it’s not as secure so we switched over to Whats App, because he wasn’t sure who was listening.

“We communicated and video chatted through Whats App and being able to make that connection was a moment for me, just to be able to make that personal eye to eye connection was amazing.”

Welcome at the Legislature Andrii Mishtal and Kevin Kay were welcomed to the Saskatchewan Legislature Thursday. From left are Moosomin MLA Steven Bonk, Andrii Mishtal, Kevin Kay, and Cannington MLA Daryl Harrison