Ievgen Martynenko arrived in Canada two weeks ago from Kharkiv, Ukraine, and came to Portage la Prairie today (June 20) to visit City Hall. He had lunch with Mayor Irvine Ferris along with several others who came with him from Winnipeg. They're surveying communities for the possibility of moving here.
"Portage is really nice," says Martynenko. "It's not big but a very friendly community, a green area and a nice lake. I'm interested to take a look, to maybe stay and maybe bring my family here, because at this moment, we have not so many opportunities -- just to stay somewhere in the big cities. Not so many people come prepared for normal immigration. People just fled war, so we're never ready to come to a new country and an expensive country. Everybody knows the most expensive cities in the world are also in Canada."
He notes they want to find a community to stay, decent jobs, and continue on with their lives.
"Here already in Canada, maybe we will have a chance to come back to Ukraine, we hope," continues Martynenko. "But nobody knows. Nobody knows how far and how long it's going to take to bring the peace back to our land, and to be able to be in a safe location and not be worried about our kids. So, that's the thing. Most of the people came with almost nothing -- like one or two bags in their hands. And they're looking for chance to start over a new life, but with very limited budget, and many of them with very limited language. It is just a life quest for all of them and me."
He explains that the Canadian government is giving them two weeks accommodation in a hotel.
"But after that time, you have to find some housing for yourself," adds Martynenko. "In most cases, it's just about local communities who are trying their best to help. They're gathering all the things -- pillows, beds. They're trying to arrange some housing and looking for volunteers who are ready to accept Ukrainian families, because many of them they cannot even pay for their rent -- even the cheapest rent they cannot afford. Most of people just already paid all their money for their air tickets. Canada paid and told them to just pay it back when you come here."
Martynenko notes his wife and children are currently in Turkey, adding he first came to Canada to Halifax and from there to Winnipeg.
Portage School Division Career development coordinator Blair Hordeski says he was contacted on the weekend by a gentleman currently staying at one of the hotels in Winnipeg from Ukraine where most of the Ukrainians that are coming into Manitoba now are staying at the Best Western Hotel in Winnipeg. He says the man asked him about Portage.
"I asked him when he'd be arriving in Winnipeg, and he said, 'Well, I'm actually here now,'" explains Hordeski. "'I'm staying at the Best Western in Winnipeg,' which is where most of the Ukrainians that are coming into Manitoba are if they don't have a place to go there. They have some services that are provided to them at the Best Western. So, I said.'Well, would you be interested in seeing our city?'"
Hordeski says he asked if anybody else would like to come, and they brought a carload on Monday.
"We visited schools, met with employers and talked to some folks about accommodation as well," continues Hordeski. "Right now, the push is on for these people. They're staying in the hotel, but they really are eager to settle. This was just a chance to showcase Portage and invite them here. The mayor was kind enough to have lunch with them, answer some of their questions. So, just a great day. We see this as being a real big opportunity for our community because we know that the province of Manitoba was really built with large support from the Ukrainian community and Ukrainian immigrants that came to Canada. We now see Ukrainians coming again. So. we have needs in our community and we'd like to explore the possibility of these Ukrainian newcomers helping us and we can help them."
Martynenko says he considered England and Canada, but would prefer to live here in Canada.