With Canadian flags and baseball caps in hand, Michelle and Tom Hunter waited eagerly at the airport for three hours, ready to welcome the Ukrainian family they will be hosting. They were part of a crowd of other host families, government officials, organizations, translators and other well-wishers who gathered at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport to greet the 319 Ukrainian refugees arriving on a chartered flight from Warsaw, Poland on Thursday evening.
“I’m excited,” Michelle says while waiting for the flight. “I’m relieved that they’re here, because they’ve been through a lot.” Their guests, a family of three from Mariupol, had been travelling for two days straight. When they get through the gate, “we’re gonna give them a hug,” she says. “We’re going to give them Tim Hortons coffee, they’ve probably never had it before,” Tom laughs.
The new arrivals began trickling out of customs just after 7pm, when they were met with applause and “ласкаво просимо” (welcome) from Premier Tim Houston. Each Ukrainian was handed a chocolate bar from Peace by Chocolate, a tartan scarf and Canadian and Nova Scotian flags.
Among the welcome crew was Marie McKeen, who
had been waiting at the airport since 4:30pm to hand out pins and flags to the newcomers. “I do this kind of stuff all the time,” she says, “one day they might run me out of here.”
There were a series of emotional first meetings between host families and their guests. Colleen and J.P. Martinello cried tears of joy when their guests, Nataliia and her five-year-old daughter, Zlata, walked through the gate. “You have no idea how relieved I am,” Colleen says, “I’m very very happy they’re here.”
The Hunters’ three guests were some of the last to come out of the gate, and the couple rushed to embrace the mother, Tetiana, father Volodymyr and their 11 year-old son Daniil. “We’re exhausted, but happy that at last we arrived,” Tetiana says. Despite their long journey to Halifax, the family was in high spirits while they waited in line to complete their paperwork. Daniil was grinning from ear to ear. “I feel like we’re really really good friends already,” Michelle says. “It’s like meeting a long lost relative,” Tom adds.
“We are very glad to be here,” Tetiana says, “we really appreciate all your help and everything you have done for us.” And the first thing she and her family want to do in Halifax? “Sleep a bit I think,” she says.
The flight to Halifax was the last of three chartered by the federal government for those fleeing the war in Ukraine. The first two flights landed in Winnipeg and Montreal in May. Ukrainians who don’t have a place to stay yet are being provided with a two week hotel stay. If you are interested in making a donation or hosting a Ukrainian refugee visit the YMCA’s NS Supports Ukraine portal or the Facebook group Atlantic Canada hosts for Ukrainians.