It was mostly women, children and the elderly who got off a long flight from Poland to Regina on Monday evening — they were people fleeing the war in Ukraine.
A couple of people waved Ukrainian flags or signs painted in blue and yellow, and one or two of the kids gave furtive waves to those watching from across the tarmac at the Regina airport. But most made their way down the plane steps onto the tarmac, and then followed the orange pylons to start their lives in their new — albeit in some cases temporary — home.
About 230 people were on the flight, bringing the total number of displaced Ukrainians who’ve come to Saskatchewan since the war began to 1,000.
There were a handful of politicians on hand to witness the arrival.
Terry Dennis, a Saskatchewan Party MLA and legislative secretary responsible for Saskatchewan-Ukraine relations, said watching the people walk off the plane was emotional.
“I was in Berlin, I saw some of the camps there, and to see them finally get to safety and try to find them a home (is special),” said Dennis.
Regina Mayor Sandra Masters said she couldn’t watch the Boeing 787 touch down without reflecting on the war and thinking that, four months ago, the people on the plane were living lives just like people in Canada.
“For all of us who take our country of peace and freedom for granted, I think that’s a stark message because they’re loving families, they had lives, they sent their kids to school and participated in activities,” said Masters.
She said the City of Regina is happy to be a place of refuge and safety but she’s also conscious of why the people are here.
“We wish there wasn’t war but if they’re going to be displaced, they will be welcome here,” said Masters.
The Ukrainians were processed through customs and then taken to the University of Regina, where they’ll stay for the next number of days. A team from the province will help them get things like Saskatchewan health cards, driver’s licences, and bank accounts.
Dennis said many will then move on to other communities in the province to settle in. This was the first flight chartered to Saskatchewan for these displaced persons and Dennis hopes there will be more.
“Today was a trial and it worked out very good, but there was a lot of good hard work by some of our staffing and the airport staff as well,” said Dennis.
The provincial government is providing support to the Ukrainians as well as the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
Elena Krueger, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) Saskatchewan, said the organization has had all kinds of people step up and offer financial support, as well as jobs and homes to those coming to the province.
“Ukrainians around the world, across Canada and certainly from around Saskatchewan have stood up for Saskatchewan, providing both humanitarian aid as well as support for displaced Ukrainians, as we’re seeing today, arrive in our province,” said Krueger.
The flight was free of charge for the displaced persons, donated by the humanitarian groups Open Arms and Solidaire. On the way back, the plane will be taking donations from Saskatchewan — non-perishable food, sleeping bags and medical supplies — to the Ukrainian people in need.