Wyoming native helping Ukrainian refugees come to Canada

Johnathan Verroen, center, who grew up in Wyoming, is living in Poland, helping bring Ukrainian refugees to Canada.

A Wyoming native working in Poland to get Ukrainians to Canada says it’s a great first step the federal government will be sending chartered planes to help bring them to their new homes.

But Johnathan Verroen says there are hundreds more looking to escape the war raging in their country.

Today, the federal government announced three planes will go to Poland starting May 23 to fill the chartered plane which will head to Winnipeg, Montreal and Halifax. People will be given spots on the plane on a first come first served basis.

“It’s great news they have stepped up,” says Verroen in an email to The Independent. “However, I am confused why there isn’t a flight from Warsaw to Toronto.”

Verroen has been working in Poland for weeks. He’d lost his job during the pandemic and says “COVID was my restart.”

When Russia invaded Poland, Verroen “felt this calling” to go to help. Verroen had worked for a time in Edmonton and knew many people of Ukrainian background and wanted to help. But he first ignored the calling because “it sounded crazy in my head.”

But Verroen kept watching what was going on and the calling got stronger.

After talking with friends, including his former Sunday School teacher and now Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu, “I took my credit card and got on a plane to Poland.”

Verroen met up with a man from Britain who had come to Poland to help refugees and found him through social media. They met and started working together.

One of the first things Verroen did was bring humanitarian aid to people in Ukraine.

He also kept in touch with people in Sarnia-Lambton; particularly those from a group called Save Ukraine – Sarnia-Lambton. The social media group was organized to help link Ukrainians with people her who wanted to host them.

As he started working, Verroen found there was not a lot of information about how to get to Canada so he prepared a document people could print out and know what they’re facing.

Verroen and Save Ukraine have been able to link about eight to 10 families to come to Lambton.

But he said there are many more waiting.

“Currently we have had lineups of refugees at the Center in Przemysl wanting to come,” says Verroen. “Our partner group partner group Pathfinders for Ukraine have a list of over 500 who have visas and hosts waiting for flights.”

Verroen says it is also a good sign that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Kyiv to reopen the Canadian Embassy last Sunday although it’s not clear how much embassy workers can help refugees hoping to get to Canada.

“The mayor of Kyiv has warned people the city it’s still not safe and that the capital of Ukraine is still Russia’s main target.”

Verroen will be working in Poland until the end of May and then flying back to Canada with at least one refugee family.

But he won’t stay there. Verroen already has plans to return to Poland June 12 knowing there are many more people who need help. “I like helping people; I get joy out of that.”

Verroen says he learned that from his father, Henry, who would always be out helping the neighbours.

To help with refugees in Sarnia-Lambton, you can find information here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/4869363516475038/?ref=sharehttps://www.facebook.com/groups/4869363516475038/?ref=share&exp=dc78

If you would like to support the work to bring Ukrainian refugees to Lambton you can contribute through this link. https://gofund.me/d21d2bee