A blue and yellow charter bus arrived in Steinbach yesterday morning carrying 54 displaced Ukrainians who plan to make the town their new home.
The tour, organized in less than a week by the Steinbach Chamber of Commerce and Eastman Immigrant Services, was designed to showcase Steinbach’s amenities, employment opportunities and Eastern European heritage.
The group of all ages have been staying at a Winnipeg hotel since arriving on a special federally chartered flight from Poland on May 23. Their welcome kits included a brochure on Steinbach.
Mayor Earl Funk and half a dozen community leaders welcomed the group to the Mennonite Heritage Village, the first stop on the tour.
“Thank you for coming to see our city,” Funk said with the help of an interpreter. “It must be so difficult to leave everything behind and come to a new country. We want to help you make the transition.”
Chris Goertzen, who chairs a local Ukrainian task force on settlement, said the host families were ready to welcome anyone looking to move to Steinbach temporarily or permanently.
“Steinbach has a long history of people coming from afar and making it their home,” Goertzen said, “and so we have a real heart for what you’ve been going through over the past few months.”
Chamber president Christine Beaumont said local employers had many vacancies to fill — more than 450, according to Anna Mondor, Steinbach’s director of economic development, who helped organize the tour.
Michelle Bezditny, the chamber’s executive director, said the pandemic has reduced the flow of skilled newcomers to Steinbach, while others in the workforce have retired, changed careers or entered college. .
After the reception, the group was treated to a guided tour of the museum grounds. The performers highlighted the importance of Ukraine in Mennonite history.
“We believe in our community and love to show it off,” said MHV Executive Director Gary Dyck. “We know it’s a welcoming place and that’s what they need right now.”
The bus then departed for an hour-long driving tour of a dozen civic, health, and business sites around Steinbach, including the Aquatic Center, Eastman Education Center, Steinbach Credit Union , Bausch Health, Barkman Concrete, Loewen Windows and three schools.
At press time, the band sat down for a Ukrainian lunch. The afternoon was reserved for a job fair.
Dima Yatskov toured with his wife and two-year-old child. He said he wanted to see the job and housing options available in Steinbach.
“I’m doing this for my son, so he can have a bright and peaceful future,” Yatskov said.
The 28-year-old grew up in Kamianets-Podilskyi, a town of 98,000 people in western Ukraine. With an agricultural background, he worked as a laboratory technician in a seed factory. In January, he took a job in Norway to earn more money and help his father pay his medical bills.
In March, her father died of COVID-19. Yatskov knew that if he attended the funeral, he would be drafted into the Ukrainian army. His relatives told him to do what was best for his family. When he heard that Canada was fast-tracking Ukrainian visa applications, he applied.