Tears of joy: Emotional welcome at Winnipeg airport first step toward new lives for refugees

The arrival of hundreds of Ukrainian refugees at Winnipeg’s Richardson Airport Monday afternoon was an emotional experience — and not only for those touching down in Canada for the first time.

Nick Krawetz, a director at the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, was on-site for the arrival in his role as a volunteer with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC).

“It was a very special day, and certainly one that our community will remember for a long time,” Krawetz told 680 CJOB’s Connecting Winnipeg.

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Read more: ‘They’re safe and they’re alive’: Ukrainian refugees landing in Winnipeg on Monday

“It was an overwhelming success and could not have gone any smoother. People were processed very quickly, very efficiently — they processed 328 people in a matter of hours. It was very special to see.”

Krawetz said most of the new arrivals are staying at a hotel near the airport where they’ll have a chance to relax, unwind and take a breath, now that a major part of the refugee experience is behind them.

“A lot of these people have been displaced for a number of months … many of them were forced to flee their homes. Some of them are actually from the front lines,” he said.

Read more: Ukrainian authorities unearth 200 bodies in Mariupol ruins

“One of the last families to get off the plane was a family of five from the city of Mariupol, a city … that was completely destroyed.

“It was really heartwarming to see them on the plane, and now they’re making their new home in Winnipeg.”

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Click to play video: 'Petersfield family brings Ukrainian family to Manitoba with help of website' Petersfield family brings Ukrainian family to Manitoba with help of website

Petersfield family brings Ukrainian family to Manitoba with help of website

Krawetz said there were a lot of tears at the airport, but they were tears of joy, (as the refugees know) that they’re safe and can begin to think about how to restart their lives in a new country.

Organizations like the UCC, along with provincial and federal governments and other stakeholders, he said, have set up a hub at the hotel most of the Ukrainians are staying at, to help with access to supports like obtaining a health card and social insurance number, and to find housing.

“I think Manitoba passed the test yesterday,” Krawetz said.

“I think we scored a lot of points on behalf of the province showing how friendly we are and how smooth the operation went.”

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The plane was the first of three chartered flights expected to land in Canada within the next week.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser has said the three flights are to help bring approximately 90,000 Ukrainians approved for emergency travel into Canada.

The second plane is scheduled to leave for Montreal from Poland on May 29 and the third, bound for Halifax, will take off on June 2.

– with files from Global News’ Marek Tkach

Click to play video: 'Deputy PM Freeland greets 1st flight of Ukrainian refugees in Winnipeg' Deputy PM Freeland greets 1st flight of Ukrainian refugees in Winnipeg

Deputy PM Freeland greets 1st flight of Ukrainian refugees in Winnipeg

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