First charter plane with Ukrainian refugees lands in Winnipeg, welcomed by prior immigrant volunteers

The first federal charter flight carrying Ukrainian refugees has landed in Winnipeg, and one young couple received an emotional phone call from the plane as soon as it touched down: their loved ones are here, and they’re safe.

Pavlo and Natalie Lebedev, who moved to Winnipeg from Kharkiv eight years ago, were waiting at the airport wearing Ukrainian flags and anxiously waiting for word the plane had touched down.

Pavlo’s mother and sister, who the couple hadn’t seen since they left, are on the flight. His sister was living near Kiev when Russia invaded, and was surrounded by troops for over a month before being able to flee across the border.

After leaving Ukraine, they had been in Warsaw for over a month while waiting for their visas.

Natalie’s mother, sister, and niece arrived in Winnipeg a month ago. Her sister’s husband stayed in Ukraine. 

The couple said they hadn’t been able to sleep or eat much since the beginning of the war, as they watched the news and waited anxiously for updates from family and friends. 

While the Lebedevs’ families have familiar faces to welcome them to Winnipeg, many arrived today not knowing anyone.

A group of volunteers, many of whom immigrated here from Ukraine themselves, stepped in to offer translation and to help the refugees make their way to the hotel welcome centre.

Syvatoslav Furda came to Canada six years ago, and is volunteering through the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

“Many people that are coming here, they do not have any family or anybody who will be able to assist them in more a family kind of matter. So for me, it’s really important to help them and give them this kind of understanding and feeling that they are welcome here and are like home,” Furda said.

Volunteers have been making preparations for 350 Ukrainian refugees to arrive in Winnipeg. (Jérémie Bergeron/CBC)

When Mariana Sklepowich came to Canada, she was welcomed and accepted into a community with the help of volunteers. Today, she’s hoping to offer the same comfort and guidance.

“It’s important to just offer a little bit of a ray of hope, some comfort to the people who are coming here and seeking some refuge and safety,” Sklepowich said.

While she feels a bit of excitement for the refugees to be arriving in a safe, welcoming community, she’s mindful of the journey they’ve gone through to get here.

“It’s been a really long journey and and a difficult one full of potential trauma that the people arriving have experienced. So we are very sensitive to that. But we also want to make sure that they feel welcome with open arms when they arrive in Manitoba.”

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