Unlike earlier migration patterns when most participants moved from the West of Ukraine, participants in this study came from a variety of regions with different socio-economic backgrounds and a variety of previous travel experiences, from none to extensive. Participants all had obtained some post-secondary qualifications from trade school diplomas to PhDs.
Reasons for immigrating to Canada
Driving factors for immigration varied from searching for better economic opportunities, dissatisfaction with political development in Ukraine, environmental concerns, and avoiding mandatory army conscription, to difficulties in finding a sense of belonging in their home country and fascination with the idea of life in North America. Nine out of thirty-three participants arrived in Canada to pursue education and then decided to stay. Some people had multiple reasons for coming to Canada; however, economic security and sense of stability was a combined leading factor along with improving education and seeking adventure or personal growth. Based on the thirty-three interviews, we theorize that the overpowering sense of lack of security (economic and otherwise) and structure was among the largest contributing factors that drove many of the interviewees towards actual immigration.
Surprises and challenges on arrival
Most people expressed that their level of English had not been as helpful as they had hoped, even if it was very good on arrival. Nor did money go as far as anticipated with things like housing, utilities, and transportation being surprisingly expensive. Most people were disappointed with the initial employment they were able to secure, despite many having good employment and work experience in Ukraine. Still, they took on extra study or work for Canadian experience and moved up. People mentioned that they were also surprised at the poverty and homelessness lived by some Canadians, as well as the realization that so much work needs to be done for reconciliation with Indigenous people. Some commented on the surprise and enjoyment of the multicultural aspects of Canada. Almost all people mentioned that food does not taste as good in Canada with overall less farm to table accessibility.
Hopes and Dreams
All participants hoped that Ukraine will become self-sufficient and strong, with a true, unique, Ukrainian identity. All believed that this work is presently in progress and all but one was certain it will happen in time. Participants said these changes will require an end to corruption, government truly investing in the people, clear and enforced legislation, and a willingness on the part of citizens to accept divergent opinions and histories in their homeland.
When speaking of their families and their futures, people wanted economic and emotional security, as well as room for growth and attainment of personal and professional goals in their new country. People hoped for continued democratic growth and support of citizens through good economic policies while some mentioned a need make the education system more stringent, and to provide better healthcare for all. Many highlighted the need for both genuine reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and concrete social services for children and families.
We were surprised to learn that, while people want family members to visit and family members would like more streamlined access to visit family in Canada, only four participants mentioned family members considering a move to Canada. However, family members continue to provide much appreciated emotional support from afar. This reality of distance and the need to give up one national identity to take on another made it doubly hard for some who came to Canada just to study, then met someone special, married, and in doing so had to make that final reality-based choice between new family in Canada and family still residing in Ukraine.
People also spoke about their own contributions to their new home. In addition to the hard work all invest for themselves and family, all but one person spoke about the need to volunteer their energies and talents in community. Many also mentioned the importance of connecting with community, to learn more about other cultures co-existing in Canada.
What gets people through hard times. Participants shared that they saw the challenges they faced upon immigration as mostly positive, though somewhat complicated. Essentially, it was a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” attitude bundled with sheer determination that got them through, along with relational support, partially from family directly (financial, emotional) both in Canada and in Ukraine, and indirectly through the familial and cultural values they brought with them. They identified hope for the future as a motivator as well as sometimes more specific spiritual beliefs. Many mentioned that in hard moments it helped to remind themselves that they had carefully weighed their options before making a conscious choice to move to Canada. Participants noted they had been taught to be self-sufficient and determined. While mostly helpful, sometimes this worked to participants’ detriment. At times they felt isolated until they realized that not only was it acceptable to ask for help, it was also important. In this way, their community involvement also grew. Many mentioned specifically how important it was to branch out beyond the diaspora, though that community is greatly valued. We noticed that even though people did not usually mention humour, their shared observations were often wry and witty. We think this humour also helps people through.
Finally, when asked if any advice could be offered to others considering the move, the short answer was provided in summary. We were told, it is important for people to listen to their hearts while thinking carefully about what they want and what they are willing to invest. Further paraphrasing several participants, we were told people should learn the language and be prepared to work hard, willing to get even more education as needed. People should be prepared to learn about other cultures, get involved in community and, if there is a desire to keep Ukrainian cultural traditions, then invest time and energy. Be prepared to have a rough couple of years of adjustment at first. Keep reminding yourself of the decisions you have made and keep going.
Video Presentation of the Original Findings: Session 3: Spaces of Negotiation: Dr. Maureen Flaherty & Yuliia Ivaniuk on Vimeo