Ukrainian children who have cancer are expected to start arriving for medical care in Canada in coming days.
“We can confirm that Sick Kids expects to receive fewer than five pediatric patients with cancer from Ukraine within the next 36 to 48 hours,” said Jessamine Luck, a spokeswoman for the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
In a statement e-mailed to The Globe and Mail late on Monday, Ms. Luck said she could not give more information. “We are unable to provide the specific number of patients or further details at this time to respect the privacy of these children and their families.”
Nearly three million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded, including children who were trapped in hospital while being treated for cancer. Scores of them have been evacuated to Poland, where they are have resumed treatment or are preparing to be relocated. Britain and Spain announced over the weekend that they will each bring more than 20 Ukrainian children and their families to cancer wards in their hospitals.
In Canada, several organizations have worked together to bring children here, including a group of Canadian Armed Forces veterans.
Last year, Aman Lara – Pashto for “sheltered path” – helped hundreds of refugees who fled Afghanistan as the Taliban took over get to Canada.
“We’ve learned a lot in Afghanistan and we think we can help in Ukraine,” Aman Lara executive director Brian Macdonald said in an interview on Monday. He added “this is absolutely just the start. We will do everything we can to bring more kids over.”
Mr. Macdonald said a privately sponsored jet will bring two children and their families from Krakow to Toronto, potentially as early as Tuesday evening.
“Flight details are in flux right now,” he said. But he added that the paperwork for the families is in place because the office of federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser helped expedite their temporary residence permits.
“My understanding is Sick Kids is ready to take up to a dozen kids,” Mr. Macdonald said. But he added that while this initiative will start at the Toronto hospital, discussions are under way about potentially placing Ukrainian children in cancer-care hospitals across Canada.
Steve Day, a Canadian special-forces commander turned consultant, said he has been working 16-hour days for the past week trying to charter a transatlantic flight, line up the immigration paperwork and help the Ukrainian families get ready.
A mother and her two-year-old child undergoing treatment for leukemia are among dozens of young cancer patients that escaped across the Ukrainian border into Poland on March 8. Video obtained by The Globe and Mail showed Yana Vorobyova and her son Nikita in the basement of the Chernihiv Regional Children’s Hospital on March 4, where they had been sheltering since the Russian invasion began.
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This work and the flight are being funded through donations from Toronto financier Richard Hamm, he said. “This is complex international travel,” Mr. Day said. He added that “we’re not across the finish line yet. It has absolutely been a roller coaster ride.”
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress says it will assist with the adjustment to Canada by introducing the children and their families to volunteers who will drive them around, line up schooling and help them learn English.
“We’ll be there to socially and morally support the families when they arrive,” said Alexandra Chyczij, president of the UCC.
A real estate investment trust is providing up to 10 rent-free furnished apartments in Toronto, she said.
Last week, The Globe and Mail reported on the plight of eight children and their families at the Chernihiv Regional Children’s Hospital in Ukraine. They were living in the basement of the hospital, which was running out of painkillers and food as Russian military forces surrounded the facility.
A convoy has since taken the children to Poland. “It’s sad that we have to leave Ukraine, but there is no choice because the children must finish their treatment,” Yana Vorobyova, the mother of two-year-old who has acute lymphoblastic leukemia, said at the time.
The Hospital for Sick Children said in its statement that it has a “moral responsibility” to provide care for vulnerable children fleeing Ukraine.
“Sick Kids, along with our government and community partners, has been preparing for this possibility for a number of days,” Ms. Luck said. “Toronto has a strong and compassionate Ukrainian community and Sick Kids has long-standing partnerships with Ukrainian children’s hospitals that enable us to support urgent children’s health-care needs in Ukraine.”
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