Ontario strangers meet online and make 'life-changing' decision to help Ukrainians
Huntsville's Trevor MacDonald and Oshawa's Robbie Walker were strangers before they met online while looking for ways to help Ukrainian people.
A few weeks later, the two Ontario men booked a one-way trip to Budapest, Hungary, to help with humanitarian aid for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.
The duo collected bags full of donations and flew out on March 8.
Since arriving, MacDonald and Walker have volunteered in a refugee aid tent outside a Budapest train station.
"I never expected to see this in my lifetime," said Walker via video chat.
Walker told CTV News that waves of trains arrive carrying Ukrainians escaping their homeland as cities are shelled and bombed.
Many flee with only the shirt on their back.
"We've been doing everything from building tents, putting up new tents, organizing food, getting donations together," Walker said.
"We go and get pasta, rice, sauce for pasta, water, milk, anything we need to," MacDonald added.
The men have spent their own money to re-supply the tent.
MacDonald shared a story of a mother and her children arriving in Hungary from Kyiv en route to the Czech Republic.
He said they wanted to have some normalcy back in their lives after the chaos they escaped, so the Huntsville man spent time with them, even bringing the family to a nearby McDonalds for a meal.
"They gave me big, big hugs and said, 'When this is over, we want you to come to Ukraine, you'll have a warm place to sleep and a warm meal,'" MacDonald said.
His story is just one of MacDonald and Walker's countless memories since being in eastern Europe.
"This morning, I helped a young Ukrainian lady find the Canadian embassy, and she wants to go to Canada," said Walker from outside the refugee aid tent.
COMING TO CANADA
According to the Minister's Office of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC), over 10,000 Ukrainians have immigrated to Canada since January, with an additional 20,000 applications yet to be approved.
The Government said Ukrainians looking to come to Canada temporarily will be able to stay for three years through the 'Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel' program, which is now accepting applications.
"As soon as it started, we started getting phone calls," said Erli Bregu, immigration consultant for Guide to Canada Immigration Services.
He said families had been calling him about how the new emergency travel program works for relatives in Ukraine.
"There's two ways to do it. One is the online application, which is likely what most of them will do, and there's a paper form as well," Bregu said from his office.
"You have to prove your status in the form of a passport or birth certificate, and then you proceed," he added.
Although, there are exceptions, according to the ministry.
The IRCC said it is issuing single journey travel documents for those who do not have valid passports, which can be issued within 24 hours.
Meanwhile, Walker and MacDonald call their journey humbling and life-changing.
Walker will return home next week, while MacDonald said he plans to remain a while longer.
"Ever since I arrived, I knew I was in the right place and where I have to be," he said. "I just want to stay here and help as long as I can."
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