A map of Ukraine hangs in the coffee room of Maidan Market, a welcome hub for Ukrainian refugees in Ottawa’s Westgate Shopping Centre that opened in May 2022, four months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Each pushpin on the map represents someone forced to flee their home country and resettle in Canada — a vivid illustration of the displacement caused by the war.
The makeshift community centre at Westgate offers donated clothing and other basic necessities for Ukrainian newcomers, along with links to key resources — resettlement support, language training, career counselling and more — vital for those displaced by the war in Eastern Europe.
Beside the map is a notebook filled with the contact information for the many Ukrainians who have recently settled in Ottawa, allowing newcomers to connect with each other in their new home city.
Olenka Bastian, who has served as the humanitarian and fundraising lead for the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in Ottawa, launched Maidan Market with a team of volunteers.
“A lot of Ukrainian refugees said that it was such a gift for them to be able to come to Maidan Market and be automatically involved in a sense of community they couldn’t even fathom existed outside Ukraine,” said Bastian. “Besides resources, it’s a place for them to speak their own native language over a cup of coffee.”
‘My job gives me a sense of purpose. It gives me an opportunity to do something for Ukrainians. It helps me cope with things I cannot influence, that I cannot change in terms of war.’— Svitlana Maksiuta, settlement manager and former client, Maidan Market
Svitlana Maksiuta, who was living in Kyiv, a major target in the Russian assault, was on holiday when the war broke out. She arrived in Canada last July. Maksiuta was a client at Maidan Market looking for hygiene products and clothes from among the nearly 20,000 pounds of donations.
Maksiuta is now the settlement manager at Maidan Market, providing fellow refugees with the supplies and support services they need.
“My job gives me a sense of purpose. It gives me an opportunity to do something for Ukrainians,” she said. “It helps me cope with things I cannot influence, that I cannot change in terms of war.”
Now, more than a year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Maidan Market is no longer accepting donations — “The space isn’t big enough anymore,” said Bastian. “We’d need a Walmart!’ — and has adapted to better support the settlement of newcomers to Canada.
“The two biggest challenges facing Ukrainian refugees might be the English language and housing. If you don’t have a job and a credit history, it’s a lot harder to secure housing. And it’s much easier when you have a job. English-language skills are needed for that,” Maksiuta explained.
‘It was a challenge because in Canada, you have to have a credit score, you have to have reference from a previous landlord, you have to have support from other Canadian people — but when you have only arrived, you don’t have anything here.’— Tatyana Maslova, Ukrainian refugee from Odessa now living in Ottawa
Maidan Market provides services such as English-language classes and conversation clubs, career counselling, job building workshops (including resumé and interview training), as well as life coaching sessions.
Tatyana Maslova is a Ukrainian refugee from the “beautiful city” of Odessa, who fled to Canada in April 2022.
Maslova described the initial struggle getting into her rental townhouse in Barrhaven, which required an advance payment for four months.
With rental costs averaging more than $2,000 a month, Maslova and her husband must also factor in international tuition for their oldest son — a third-year aerospace engineering student at Carleton University — which is around $46,000 annually.
“It was a challenge because in Canada, you have to have a credit score, you have to have reference from a previous landlord, you have to have support from other Canadian people — but when you have only arrived, you don’t have anything here,” said Maslova.
‘A lot of Ukrainian refugees said that it was such a gift for them to be able to come to Maidan Market and be automatically involved in a sense of community they couldn’t even fathom existed outside Ukraine.’— Olenka Bastian, founder of the Maidan Market at Westgate Shopping Centre
Maidan Market connected Maslova and her family to a realtor who helped them secure a home and even purchase furniture.
Maslova works as an online administrator, but not speaking English fluently posed a challenge in assimilating and securing a job in the city.
“For me, the biggest challenge is my English because you have a language barrier. Sometimes I realize I speak like I’m from kindergarten and I cannot say my emotions with English words,” she said. “I can only say simple phrases. It was a big change.”
However, while community hubs like Maidan Market and Cafe Ukraine provide English and second language resources, using these spaces to speak Ukrainian is a reminder of home and a source of national pride.
“Keep your name. Your name is unique, your name is important, your language is important, and your heritage, your story, your culture is important. You have a space here to feel safe having your cultural and historical background,” says Maksiuta.
With a growing number of volunteers, both Ukrainian and Canadian, Maidan Market is hoping to further expand its support and settlement services this year.