Ukrainian refugee helping immigrants find footing
Sofiia Postolatii is learning just how different Canadian problems are from the issues Ukrainians face.
The Ukrainian refugee, who made a harrowing escape from war-torn Sumi to Ottawa in the spring, says that, while her parents are struggling to stay alive in their home country, Canadians are getting worked up about things they really shouldn’t worry so much about.
“Canadians have different problems,” says Postolatii. “For my parents, they are trying to stay warm and to stay alive, and for [Canadians,] maybe it’s someone didn’t buy the bag they wanted and they get upset.”
Russian missiles destroyed part of her hometown in north-eastern Ukraine, where 22 of her neighbours were killed in a March 7 airstrike. The blast left crater-sized holes on front lawns and destroyed several nearby homes. Soon after the attack, Postolatii escaped with the help of Edelweiss resident and former Canadian Forces infantry captain Kynan Walper. Walper has been running evacuations out of Ukraine since the beginning of the war.
Postolatii’s mother and father are still in Sumi, and although the town is no longer under Russian occupation, the region is fraught with power grid problems and heat and connectivity issues.
“The main problem right now is not the war; it’s mostly staying warm, keeping their house heated,” says Postolatii, referring to her 60-year-old dad and her 53-year-old mom. “There is no actual fighting there, but the Russians still are sending missiles. Sometimes my parents tell me they hear explosions, but it’s not close.”
When Postolatii arrived in Canada, she began working at Parliament Hill under the Ukraine Parliamentary Program. The position was only temporary, but this newspaper hired her to write stories on how she was settling in Canada. Readers may remember her exciting weekend when she met the royal family - then-Prince Charles and Camilla – this past spring.
Her Low Down work was noticed by Edmonton-Wetaskiwin MP Mike Lake, who hired her as an immigration case worker. Postolatii spent a month in Edmonton working for the Conservative MP, helping immigrants find their footing in a new country — something she knows plenty about.
“The interesting job was in Edmonton when I was dealing with real cases when people were asking for help with immigration getting their passports,” she says. “It’s really interesting how I was helping people who are receiving their citizenship or people who have been in Canada for many years, and I myself am not a Canadian citizen.”
What she says she learned, though, is how little power politicians have over immigration — especially when they are not with the ruling party. She says she has fielded multiple “angry” calls from immigrants frustrated with a lack of action.
“Sometimes people think that you just have this magic wand and you can help solve all their problems, but usually, in an MP's office, we are the in-between,” she says. “We can make requests to immigration, but we can’t actually make decisions or we can’t influence their decisions.”
Postolatii says working on the Hill has helped her integrate into Canadian society, as she’s learning the inner workings of the government as an assistant to MP Lake. In her job, she has met some of the who’s who in Canadian politics, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland, who Postolatii can speak Ukrainian with.
However, she says she’s looking for a second job to support her parents in Sumi. They both work at a factory and are trying to survive on a combined salary of $120 per month. She has been sending half her paycheck back to them, but with inflation rising in Canada, things are getting tight, she says.
“I don’t know how other people survive on this money, if they don’t have any money from loved ones abroad,” says Postolatii. “My parents right now survive on the money I send them.” She says she wants to purchase a portable heater for her parents so they can stay warm this Christmas.