ESTEVAN - A new group has been formed to bring Ukrainian refugees to Saskatchewan.
The Sunflower Network is comprised of about 25 people between Saskatchewan and Alberta. The Saskatchewan contingent includes representatives from Estevan, Carnduff, Moosomin, Saskatoon and Abernethy.
Brian Crossman of Estevan said it started with an industry friend of his, Steve Halabura, who is of Ukrainian descent. Halabura became concerned after he saw what was happening in Ukraine since the war with Russia began.
“He reached out to a bunch of us other industry people, in the energy industry, that we should maybe do something,” said Crossman. “So, he organized some Zoom meetings on Sunday nights, and we started discussing options of what we could do, and we put together the Sunflower Network to see what we could do to help these people to get out of Ukraine,” said Crossman.
Many of them are now staying in Poland and other countries.
“They can choose to stay in Canada, or when the war is over, they can go home,” said Crossman.
One of the members of the Sunflower Network was part of the team that brought a Ukrainian family to Estevan earlier this month. The group have a family in the queue that is in Poland and is waiting for their visas. The family has relatives in Estevan.
Halabura has brought a doctor and his wife to Saskatoon.
Crossman expects there will be an influx of refugees across the province.
“If we can get a few families here, great. I guess it depends on where they wish to go. Some of them will probably want to go to the bigger cities and some of them might want to go into the farm communities,” said Crossman.
The people in Abernethy are wanting to get some in the farming sector, while those in Estevan want to bring Ukrainians into the energy sector.
Debbie Hagel and Michael Pelletier with Southeast Newcomer Services have been a big help, Crossman said, and Cory Casemore has been a big part of the Estevan team. John Billesberger is also going to assist.
They have just started fundraising, and Crossman said Canadians, particularly Saskatchewan people, are always very generous.
“We’re all in it for the same reason. We just want people to be safe. A lot of us have businesses and we may have the opportunity to hire some of these people, if they’re interested, but the goal right now is to get them out of harm’s way and here, where it’s safe,” said Crossman.
A lot of people that they’re talking to have families in Canada, which helps bring them here.
“Estevan does have quite a few Ukrainian families here already, so that’s definitely a plus,” said Crossman.
Some of those Ukrainian families moved here more than a decade ago during the Saskatchewan boom years.
There are a lot of other groups involved with efforts like this, and Crossman stressed the Sunflower Network is one of many groups trying to help as many people as possible.
“Whether we get five, 10 or 20 families, I’m not sure. We’re still working out the numbers on that, because it’s a certain financial obligation to get a family over here and get them up on their feet until they’re ready to get jobs and pay their own way. Those numbers vary from family to family.”
A church and a foundation have stepped forward to accept donations to the Sunflower Network, allowing for a charitable receipt to be granted. They are in the process of sending out emails to people they know in the industry for donations. Crossman said members will be transparent in how they spend money.
“I know there are some people, and they’re definitely interested in helping, which is good, because like anything in life, it takes money to make things happen, and the nice thing about having the charitable component is the foundations we’re going through, we can issue tax receipts,” said Crossman.
The Sunflower Network will be looking for furniture, bedding clothing, kitchen needs, toiletries and more, because many people fleeing Ukraine are leaving the country with the clothes on their back.
“Some of these people do have families, and they might have some access to some things already, but we’re definitely going to be looking for all ways to help these people.”
You can visit their website for more information.
For more stories on how people of Saskatchewan are helping Ukrainians, visit our provincial news hub website at www.sasktoday.ca.