CALGARY — After six months under Russian occupation, Dmytro Syrman and his family decided to flee Ukraine for a safer life abroad and are now in Calgary.
The family lived in Dniprorudne, a mining city of 17,000 in southern Ukraine. Syrman worked as a human resources manager at an iron factory.
In August, Syrman, his wife, Anastasiia, and four-year-old daughter Varvara embarked on a six-day, 3,000-kilometre drive to Poland.
"On the 24 of February, when the Russian army attacked Ukraine and occupied our city in March 2022, we lost everything," Syrman said Wednesday.
He said they began planning their escape when they realized Russian soldiers weren't leaving their city.
"We started all of this because we were scared for Varvara," he said. "When Russian bombs were falling near our city it was really scary."
Their home is still under Russian occupation.
For the past year the family stayed in Poland, sent in their paperwork to come to Canada, and two weeks ago arrived in Calgary.
They're now staying with a host family for a month while they look for long-term accommodation and to find jobs.
"We are here and starting a new life. We can't believe about people who don't know us and many helped us. We're really shocked," Syrman said.
The Syrmans were helped by Calgary's Centre for Newcomers, which started a campaign to find 100 hosts for Ukrainian families or individuals for a month while they find housing of their own.
Kelly Ernst, chief program officer with the centre, said there has been a flood of Ukrainians trying to take advantage of a federal program that allows them to temporarily resettle in Canada.
The Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program has been extended until July and Ernst said he expects people will continue to flee the war-torn country.
"We're in a desperate, dire need at the moment for host homes to try to accommodate the evacuees coming from Ukraine. It's reaching the proportions of being a crisis moment," said Ernst.
He said people arriving elsewhere in Canada are migrating to Calgary because the rents are lower than in larger cities such as Toronto and Vancouver.
Ernst said approximately 450 people have been arriving in Calgary every week from Ukraine and his organization has helped people staying nights in the airport, off the street and at homeless shelters.
Natalia Shem, who is the manager of housing for the Ukrainian evacuees, said it's difficult for the newcomers to find somewhere to live before arriving.
"It's almost impossible to find long-term rent being outside of Canada and people who come here need one month of stay," Shem said. "It's an average time a family can find long-term rent, job and settle down here in Canada."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2023.
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press