Two Ukrainian university students living in Kamloops have created an interactive map to help those fleeing war gain access to resources across the country.
According to Mitacs, a government funded not-for-profit research organization, Ukrainian university students Yana Hulak and Sofiia Shmyhovska arrived in Kamloops in May for a research internship.
Originally, the two were looking to work on a project intended to strengthen the social work collaboration between Canada and Ukraine. But the full-scale Russian invasion of their homeland lead them to rethink their research focus.
“When we arrived at the airport in Kamloops it was like a ray of sunshine,” Shmyhovska said, describing how she and Hulak were greeted at the airport by a crowd of people singing the Ukrainian national anthem and holding welcome signs.
As a result of their warm welcome, the two researchers spent the summer at Thompson Rivers University helping to create a first-of-its-kind interactive online map that directs Ukrainian newcomers to what they call “safe spaces” across the country.
“We were tired, we were hungry, we were cold, and then suddenly our whole perspective shifted,” Shmyhovska said.
“It made us realize how important it is to feel safe when you arrive in a new country for the first time.”
The map includes coast-to-coast information on all things Ukraine-related, such as churches, educational centres, cultural centres, child care services, restaurants and stores that carry traditional Ukrainian foods, along with links to more information about each one.
Shmyhovska, an undergraduate Social Work student at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and Hulak, an undergraduate law student at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and undergraduate Economics student at National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine, are working under the guidance of TRU Associate Professor and Social Work Educator Dr. Oleksandr (Sasha) Kondrashov, a Ukrainian who came to Canada 20 years ago, Mitacs said in a statement.
As part of their research, the interns corresponded or met in person with Ukrainian contacts in different cities across the country.
“Canada is the world’s second largest diaspora of people from Ukraine, made up of more than 1.4 million people,” Shmyhovska said.
“That’s why so many Ukrainians who have fled their homes during the war are choosing Canada, and we wanted to give them a safe space to land when they arrive.”
The map is available as a Google Maps link and includes diverse new services that are continuing to pop up in Canada.
Kondrashov said the plan is to continue to update and colour-code the map on a continual basis so newcomers will have an easy-to-use resource to find familiarity, networking opportunities and support.
The interns also developed a virtual English lesson program currently being used by more than 130 Ukrainians globally.
According to Kondrashov, his team was already focused on developing resources to help Canadian families hosting newcomers to learn Ukrainian — it was his two new interns who decided to develop and offer English lessons to Ukrainians as well.
“Now newcomers can start their English lessons before arriving in Canada and it helps them to integrate into the community much more easily,” he said, adding that the classes are available on Zoom every Saturday morning — right after a virtual healing circle his team created to bring Ukrainians together.