Ukrainian boy, 16, set to arrive in Newfoundland today on plane carrying 166 refugees

A 16-year-old Ukrainian boy who left behind his family is among the 166 refugees expected to land in St. John's, N.L., Monday evening aboard a plane chartered by the provincial government.

The flight left Poland around noon, Newfoundland time, provincial Immigration Minister Gerry Byrne said in an interview Monday. It is part of an effort led by the provincial government and buoyed by a network of unaffiliated volunteers working to bring Ukrainians to Canada's easternmost province and ensure they're housed and cared for.

"Not only is it our duty as world citizens in a global community, but we also have something to offer, which we hope others in not only Canada but across North America will emulate," Byrne said. "Time for action is now."

The province opened a satellite office in Warsaw, Poland, in March to help Ukrainians fleeing Russian attacks resettle in Newfoundland and Labrador. The people working there have been handing out flyers, meeting with Ukrainians and helping them get paperwork in order. They chartered two buses to carry the 166 passengers on Monday's flight from Warsaw to the airport in Katowice, which is about 300 kilometres away.

Byrne said the plane arriving Monday is the first government-chartered flight to bring Ukrainian refugees to Canada.

The 16-year-old boy on board -- whose name The Canadian Press has agreed not to publish in order to protect his family -- will be staying with Kelly Power, who worked with his sister at a pharmacy four years ago. They got along and stayed friends, even after the sister moved away, Power said in an interview Friday.

It was less than a month after Russia invaded Ukraine that her friend sent her a message on social media, asking if she'd take care of the teenager if he could make it from Ukraine to Newfoundland.

Power, 52, said she didn't think twice about agreeing to welcome the boy into her home.

"If I said no, he wouldn't have anywhere to go," she said in a recent interview. "I was his way out."

Power was emotional as she spoke about the teenager and all the things he'll need: clothes, bedding, help with his English, friends.

She said his sister worked hard with the team at the Newfoundland and Labrador office in Warsaw to get him a visa, a passport and a way out of Ukraine to make the flight.

The trip to St. John's will be difficult, Power said: he's leaving his parents behind, as well as his dog. He's never been on a plane, and he only just turned 16.

Adilya Dragan has been working hard to make sure the people on the plane have what they need when they arrive. The 32-year-old from Russia lives just outside St. John's, and she moderates a Facebook group dedicated to sending medicine and supplies from Newfoundland to Ukraine.

Now, the group is also dedicated to helping the refugees who will arrive on Monday's flight.

Dragan said she receives dozens of Facebook messages every hour from Ukrainians and those looking to help them. She's built a spreadsheet tracking the Ukrainians who've contacted her to say they're on Monday's flight, and matching them with volunteers offering furniture, clothes or a place to live. Several rooms of her home are overrun with piles of donated supplies, and she's arranged public drop-off sites where more stuff awaits.

Dragan and her team of volunteers are putting together boxes of clothes, shoes, food, toiletries, dishes and dish soap, and they'll be at the airport Monday with a customized package for everyone on her list, and other items for everyone else on the plane.

"We'll have a billboard and some brochures," she said. "And once the people come out, we will be greeting them in Ukrainian and handing them out information so they can reach out to us and tell us what they need."

Dragan said she's been overwhelmed with people in St. John's offering help, though more volunteers, supplies and donations are always needed.

"People are great here," she said. "I love Newfoundlanders; they are the greatest people. You cannot find these people anywhere else in the world."

The mother of three has her own full-time job, and she said all the work sending aid to Ukraine -- 4,000 pounds and counting -- and prepping for the refugees' arrival has become a second full-time job.

"My husband, he has family in Ukraine, and my best friend is Ukrainian," Dragan explained. "I just want to help."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2022.