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Guelph residents opening their homes to Ukrainian refugees through online apps

'We're giving money, but I would really like to help someone regain their sense of safety'
20220409 John Wilkie AD
John Wilkie is one resident who has signed up as a host on 'Ukraine Take Shelter.'

They’ve donated money in support of Ukraine, but now some residents are opening their homes to people fleeing the country. 

As the war against Russia continues, Canadians are turning to online resources to learn more about hosting Ukrainians coming to Canada. 

On one website called Ukraine Take Shelter, listings of rooms available for refugees can be found in Guelph, Fergus, Elora and Cambridge.

John Wilkie is one resident who is hoping his home can be of help for a Ukrainian family. 

He decided to sign up for the website after it was recommended to him by members of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church who help sponsor refugees. 

“I feel such a strong need to reach and do something,” said Wilkie. “All my friends are feeling very strongly about the injustice.

“I have (donated money), but I don’t know if that’s enough.”

Retired and having yet to downsize his home, he decided to offer three bedrooms and two bathrooms that are available.

Since posting, Wilkie said he has received no inquiries yet. His hope is that if a family takes up his offer. St. Andrew’s Church will help him with the sponsorship process.

“We’ll need the strength of the sponsorship,” he said.

Wilkie adds he feels good about using Ukraine Take Shelter as it is also backed by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

“It gives it a bit more authenticity,” said Wilkie.

Sue Leggatt said she was watching CTV News and learned about the website, Ukraine Take Shelter. Peaking her interest, she recently signed up as a host. 

Leggatt said what compelled her to step up was helping another human being who was in trouble.

“Watching the images on the news has been so gut wrenching,” said Leggatt. “We’re giving money, but I would really like to help someone regain their sense of safety.”

Retired, Leggatt said they have the space to host. Online, Leggatt has listed four spaces available for short or long-term use. So far, she has not received any inquiries.

“This is my first step,” said Leggatt about signing up on the website, “if it doesn’t do anything, then we’ll reach out to the Ukrainian church (St. Mary’s Ukrainian Church).” 

Along with Ukraine Take Shelter, there are other websites helping residents to connect with Ukrainians called A resident named Carol Tom signed up for both of these websites.

Within 48 hours of posting on icanhelp, she said she received two inquiries from different families. On April 27, Tom said one Ukrainian family will be coming to Canada through the Canadian-Ukraine Authorization of Emergency Travel (CUAET) program to stay with her and her 24-year-old daughter in their town home.

“I don't know how long these folks are going to stay. It depends on how long it takes them to orient, set themselves up, and frankly, calm down, ” said Tom.

She adds the family that will be staying with her have been living on adrenaline the past few weeks, and have slept very little. 

"All they have is what they were able to physically take with them, and that was the equivalent of a suitcase on wheels, that's it. So they have left their entire lives, their communities, their families, their homes, everything else."

To prepare, Tom said she has been doing research on the Facebook group, Canadian Hosts of Ukrainians Support & Information, which she said became a valuable resource in learning how to host a Ukrainian family.

"The volume and amount of information, both to host and to people who tell their stories about how to apply, is phenomenal," said Tom about the group.

Along with gathering clothes and electronics for the family, Tom mentions she and her daughter also got each other translation apps for Christmas, to help with communication and translation. 

"You need to set yourself for that success, and that family for success," said Tom about all her preparations.

Tom, who is Ukrainian on her mother's side, said her big turning point for wanting to help came from watching the Hoolsi Ukrainian Male Chorus perform the national anthem of Ukraine before a Winnipeg Jets hockey game. Hearing those voices, Tom said it pulled at her heartstrings.

"It's interesting, sometimes you hear of people that hear their national anthem, and it gets at them. In this case, in that moment, it was hearing those voices I felt connected to at that moment. It was deep and it pulled," said Tom.

"And then it's not a question of, 'Should I?' It was a question of, 'What can I do?'"

For anyone who is thinking about becoming a host, Tom mentions it's not for everybody, but there is help and resources out there for those who want to do so.

“You don't carry the entire burden yourself, this takes a community, and making an effort to connect within the community, particularly with any of the Ukrainian churches they tend to be great resources on how to support." she said. 

"Do what you can, because that little bit can make somebody's life a bit easier."