For the last 76 days — ever since Russia invaded her home country of Ukraine — Tanya Melnyk has been riding an emotional roller coaster.
“It’s been pretty different every day, but generally, really hard,” she says. “Devastating. It’s over-consuming [our] lives.”
Melnyk moved to Canada about five years ago to live with her boyfriend. The pair now live together in Maple Ridge and have opened their home to Melnyk’s relatives, who have fled Ukraine.
While she’s been helping her own network connect with services in Canada, or navigating visa applications, she has also created an online community to further support Ukrainian refugees arriving in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
Melynk had seen many groups pop up in nearby communities: Vancouver, Langley, Coquitlam, but had yet to see anything local.
The Facebook group she created on April 22, Ukrainians in Maple Ridge, now has nearly 50 members and continues to grow.
“Facebook is the strongest platform that you can build on,” says Melnyk, “because you can connect many people who need help and who can provide help.”
She says many different services are needed by refugees arriving such as: housing, clothing, furniture, transportation services, translation services and legal services.
She’s hoping her online community can help.
“What this war showed everyone is the power of community,” says Melnyk. “I think that it’s really important to build those connections ahead of time.” To know there are people willing to help if needed.
Her sister and brother-in-law arrived March 1 and had very little with them.
“A lot of people who were leaving Ukraine, they either thought it’s temporary, or they didn’t even know the war was going to begin,” she says. For example, some people left the city on vacation, or for their country homes, only bringing camping or outdoor work clothing that could get dirty.
Melnyk’s mom was navigating the visa application in Europe with her friend and their two kids.
“They are sticking together because only my mom knows English,” she says. “Without English, you feel like you’re absolutely isolated, lonely and lost.
“That’s why it’s really vital to have people who will meet people in the airport, provide transportation, provide accommodation — even temporary — and provide translation services to even be able to enrol those newcomers into English schools.”
Melnyk is trilingual. She knows English, Ukrainian and Russian and plans to post helpful updates to the group about visas, work permits and more.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, she says, but she’s hoping the group will be helpful to those arriving in the community.
“I want to have an open platform where anyone who has something to offer can offer it,” she says, “and if anyone needs it, they can connect to them directly.”