Until the war, Karyna Pustomelnyk practiced law in her hometown of Odessa, Ukraine.
Anatoly Makarenko ran a bicycle shop in Lviv, and his wife Oksana cared for patients as a cardiologist.
The three were among just over 50 newcomers to Canada who visited Norfolk County on Tuesday on a bus tour organized by the county, Venture Norfolk and the Newcomer Center of Peel.
The tour was designed to give new immigrants to the Greater Toronto Area, and especially those fleeing the war in Ukraine, a taste of Norfolk County as a potential landing spot.
Attendees toured local businesses that are currently hiring, including Titan Trailers in Courtland, Toyotetsu Auto Parts Plant in Simcoe and Unilever Ice Cream Plant in Simcoe. They also learned about local opportunities in manufacturing, agriculture, restaurants and tourism.
“We wanted to find something we could do” to help Ukrainians seeking refuge in Canada, said Chris Garwood, economic development coordinator for Norfolk.
“And at the same time, it helps our businesses.”
Makarenko called “incredible” the support his family has received since arriving in Canada from Poland last month.
“Everyone is ready to help and is very welcoming,” he told The Spectator, speaking through translator Tania Maksymenko, head of the Rural Employment Initiative at the Newcomer Center in Peel.
The Makarenkos left Ukraine just before their twins, Markiian and Dzvenyslava, turned 18. To stay past this point, Markiian would have been drafted into military service.
The twins celebrated their birthday in Toronto a few days ago.
“We believe there is a greater opportunity for our children in Canada, especially with their education,” Anatoly said.
All four family members are looking for jobs, but Markiian said employment in Toronto has so far proven elusive. They came for the bus tour, he said, to learn about the small towns around the GTA and ideally find work in Norfolk.
In the meantime, they check the news from Ukraine daily, seeing reports of shelling in the Lviv region on Monday.
“Being here, they feel much safer,” Maksymenko said.
Pustomelnyk’s eyes filled with tears as she described the agonizing choice of leaving her family and heading to Canada alone.
“Everything stopped one day, February 24,” she said, referring to the day Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began and her family’s life changed forever.
She and her parents quickly lost their jobs and they feared losing their freedom if the Russians won.
Her family has heard reports of atrocities committed by Russian soldiers against citizens of the nearby town of Mariupol, with women being particularly vulnerable. Terrified of what might happen when the Russians reached Odessa, Pustomelnyk’s mother urged her to get out.
Her father and younger brother were legally bound to stay and fight against the invading troops, and her mother chose to stay with them.
Pustomelnyk saw his family for the last time in the rear view mirror of the car that was taking him across the border to Moldova.
It was, she said, like something out of a movie.
Now in Canada for around a month, the 23-year-old said it was the longest she has ever been apart from her family.
“I love Canada, but I miss my home and my family very, very much,” she said.
Pustomelnyk said she planned to settle in Canada and earn enough money to bring her family to join her if the war did not end well.
That’s why she’s come to Norfolk to visit businesses that need workers, knowing her law degree doesn’t transfer to Canada and she’ll have to change industries.
“I have to survive,” she said.
Oksana Fito from Port Dover gathered a group of volunteers from Sacred Heart Ukrainian Catholic Church in Waterford to welcome newcomers in their own language and help with translation.
Fito said she was happy to help people from her homeland feel less disoriented as they find their place in Canada, calling the bus tour a “great opportunity” for attendees to network and learn. learn more about the settlement resources they can access.
Staff from Fanshawe College’s career services department and the Joseph Brant Learning Center in Brantford, which offers ESL classes to newcomers, were also on hand.
Garwood said several Ukrainians have already taken jobs in Norfolk, with their new employers pledging to provide job training and help them find housing.
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