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Refugees could start arriving in a week, says Plante; for South Shore teen, every day counts


The time when Quebecers will welcome Ukrainian refugees in person is drawing much closer, with Montreal's mayor saying the first flights could arrive in just a week.

It can't come soon enough, says Iana Shapovalova. The 19-year-old South Shore woman has been working with her family to get loved ones out of the city of Mariupol, but with only partial success.

The images the trapped Ukrainians send are horrifying, as Russian bombs hit: photos of billowing smoke and flattened buildings. People fleeing the hard-hit city report being surrounded in rubble and body parts, Shapovalova said Wednesday.

"I see that it’s overwhelming, and I can’t do anything because I’m not there, so we try to find ways to help," the teenager said.

The news got even worse in the city in the last 24 hours, as it became clear that Russian forces had destroyed a children's and maternity hospital in the Mariupol, with photos showing injured, blood-covered pregnant women trying to flee to safety.

Some of the city's dead were buried in a mass grave on Wednesday.

Shapovalova was born in Kyiv and now lives in Saint-Hubert after moving to Quebec at age 11. Many of her family members have now fled Ukraine, but some are still sheltering in a church that barely escaped the bombs.

A group of around 300 people has been living in church basements in the same area for 11 days, without much food or water. There are children and the elderly among them, and the men in the group have been searching nearby abandoned homes for food, said Iana.

Shapovalova's mother, Olena, said it's hard for those stuck sheltering to get messages out.

"I receive like one message that’s like, 'We live, we still live,' that’s all," said Olena Shapovalova.

The family has set up a fundraiser to try to help get the rest of their family get to more permanent safety. There are around 40 family members they're trying to help, 23 of whom have managed to escape immediate danger but are not yet in completely safe zones.

The Shapovalovas are spending most of their time now filling out visa applications, said Iana.


Their efforts may soon pay off, as cities across Quebec are getting details in place for the first flights of refugees, though it's not clear yet exactly when these will arrive.

It could be as soon as "in a week, or maybe two," however, said Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante.

Laval is preparing to take in about 2,000 families, and Mayor Stephane Boyer says the city's action plan includes potentially renting hotel rooms for them. It's also looking at providing extra amenities like free transit, he said.

"Can we give away passes for free for the first months… work with the Chamber of Commerce to give jobs?" he said. "I think it is very much a team effort to welcome those families."

On Wednesday, south of the river, Plante spent part of the day helping sort donations at a Ukrainian church, and she said the city is "ready" to host refugees.

The city pledged $60,000 to the Red Cross and is calling on Montrealers to help as well, she said. When refugees arrive, help with medication and also things like grocery gift cards will be hugely helpful, if Montrealers want to give the new arrivals a hand.

Both mayors said they're waiting to hear from Ottawa on exactly when families will start to arrive.

On Tuesday, Quebec mayors gave more information about the plans they're making, and the province's labour and immigration minister, Jean Boulet, did the same. Top Stories

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