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Non-profit group sees 'massive uptick' in Ukrainian refugees arriving on Vancouver Island

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Max Shkurupii is one of 951 Ukrainians who have fled their homeland and are now living on Vancouver Island.

"I saw that my kids stopped smiling," said Shkurupii. "My kids were forced to go into the bomb shelters."

Landing on the island in November, his family counts themselves lucky that they were able to find housing quickly.

His family might be the exception as a flood of new Ukrainians arrive on the island and face a housing crisis and strained resources.

"We had gotten into a pretty good rhythm where we were able to help people," said Karmen McNamara, general manager of Help Ukraine Vancouver Island.

The organization assists Ukrainian refugees with settling on Vancouver Island.

"Up until December we were averaging about 10 people per week," said McNamara.

Ten has now turned into 61 just last week.

In March of last year, the federal government implemented a program in order to speed up the process of Ukrainians coming to Canada. That program is set to expire at the end of March of this year.

"With the March 31 deadline looming, we are seeing this massive uptick in people who are coming," said McNamara.

That influx is putting huge pressure on the small organization that has become unable to house everyone through its host families or hotel funds.

"To have to look at a refugee in the eye and to tell them, 'I'm sorry, I don’t have a place for you to sleep tonight and I don’t know who to tell you to call' – I just don’t know," said McNamara.

That heartbreaking scenario played out last week.

The group is now looking for help as the need continues to climb.

"Any space that you have that is currently not being lived in is space that we can offer to a Ukrainian refugee," said McNamara.

Landing in Canada months ago, Shkurupii's family beat the current rush of Ukrainian immigrants looking to come to Canada before the federal program expires.

"We knew that we had no room for failure," he said.

Shkurupii knows from experience that coming to a new country isn’t easy, especially one that is already facing a housing shortage of its own.

If you are able to help with donations or want to become a host family, you can visit the Help Ukraine Vancouver Island website.

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