ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – It was less than a month after Russia invaded Ukraine when Kelly Power got a message from an old friend asking if she’d take in her 16-year-old brother – if he could make it to Newfoundland.
The boy was in Ukraine, and his sister was trying to get him out. She’d lived in Newfoundland and worked with Power at a pharmacy four years before. They got along and stayed friends, even after the sister moved away.
Power, 52, said she didn’t think twice about agreeing to take the boy in.
“If I said no, he wouldn’t have anywhere to go,” she said in a recent interview. “I was his way out.”
The teenager is now scheduled to arrive in Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital on Mon- day, aboard a plane from Poland chartered by the provincial government and carrying up to 175 Ukrainian refugees. The flight is part of a massive effort led by the provincial government and buoyed by a network of unaffiliated volunteers – and people like Power – working to bring Ukrainians to Canada’s easternmost province and ensure they’re safe, housed and cared for.
The province opened a satellite office in Warsaw, Poland in March to help Ukrainians fleeing Russian attacks resettle in Newfoundland and Labrador, beating Ottawa to the punch by almost two months.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday the federal government would open an office in Warsaw to help Ukrainians come to Canada, and made a surprise visit to the capital city of Kyiv on Sunday to formally reopen the Canadian Embassy.
Newfoundland and Labrador Immigration Minister Gerry Byrne insists the plane arriving Monday is the first government-chartered flight to bring Ukrainian refugees to Canada. His department had not confirmed how many would be on board as of Sunday evening, , but a spokesperson said Friday 175 was the “working number.”
Power gets emotional as she talks about the teenager arriving Monday – whose name The Canadian Press has agreed not to publish – and all of the things he’ll need: clothes, bedding, help with his English, friends.
She said his sister worked hard with the team at the Newfoundland and Labrador office in Warsaw to get him a visa, a passport and a way out of Ukraine and into Poland to make the flight.
The trip to St. John’s will be difficult, Power said: he’s leaving his parents behind, as well as his dog. He’s never been on a plane and he only just turned 16.
Adilya Dragan was preparing a box of clothes and supplies for the teenager on Friday afternoon. The 32-year-old from Russia lives just outside St. John’s, and she moderates a Facebook group dedicated to sending medicine and supplies from Newfoundland to Ukraine.
Now, the group is also dedicated to helping the refugees who will arrive on Monday’s flight.
Dragan said she receives dozens of Facebook messages every hour from Ukrainians and those looking to help them. She’s built a spreadsheet tracking the Ukrainians who’ve contacted her to say they’re on Monday’s flight, and matching them with volunteers offering furniture, clothes or a place to live. Several rooms of her home are overrun with piles of donated supplies, and she’s arranged public drop-off sites where more stuff awaits.
Dragan and her team of volunteers are putting together boxes of clothes, shoes, food, toiletries, dishes and dish soap, and they’ll be at the airport Monday with a customized package for everyone on her list, and other items for everyone else on the plane.
“We’ll have a billboard and some brochures,” she said. “And once the people come out, we will be greeting them in Ukrainian and handing them out information so they can reach out to us and tell us what they need.”
Dragan said she’s been overwhelmed with people in St. John’s offering help, though more volunteers, supplies and donations are always needed.
“People are great here,” she said. “I love Newfoundlanders; they are the greatest people. You cannot find these people anywhere else in the world.”
The mother of three has her own full-time job, and she said all the work sending aid to Ukraine – 4,000 pounds and counting – and prepping for the refugees’ arrival has become a second full-time job.
“My husband, he has family in Ukraine, and my best friend is Ukrainian,” Dragan explained. “I just want to help.”