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Ukrainians Find Refuge in North American Trucking Industry

Andrii Shevchuk learned Russia had invaded his home country of Ukraine while behind the wheel of his truck in the Netherlands. His wife and two children were at home in Mariupol when the invasion began, and he knew that returning home wasn’t a viable option. With the country declaring martial law, it meant that most men between 18-60 would be banned from leaving as they were called to fight. Shvechuk worried what this would mean for his family.

“I knew as soon as I would cross the border, I would be called to fight… But then, who would provide for my family? How would they survive?” he says. “I knew there was no way my wife and kids would stay in Mariupol.”

On this point, he was correct. His wife and children had fled the bombarded city in search of safety escaping with their lives, the clothes on their backs, and a single backpack. Once the family was reunited, it was time to make a new plan. Prior to the invasion, the family had considered moving to North America, and with the circumstances as they were, it seemed it was time to put that plan in motion.

They were not the only ones to make this move. Since the start of the war, Canada has approved more than 420,000 applications to enter the country though the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET).

Shevchuk is one of many who have joined Canada’s trucking industry upon arrival. Having spent years operating a truck across several European countries, Shevchuk wanted to continue his career in the industry. Despite his experience the road to obtaining licensing in Canada was a bit rocky, and it would take him almost 4 months to complete this task. He noted that scheduling a test for a G license in the Greater Toronto Area is “nearly impossible.” Just that step took weeks. It then took another three weeks until he could enroll in a school to complete the mandatory training for an AZ license. After passing the road test and completing his carrier’s in-house orientation, Shevchuk could finally shift from driving shunt trucks in the company’s fleet yard to hitting the road on his own.

Speaking of the carrier, Canadian-based, Caravan has hired roughly 10 Ukrainian newcomers since the war began, filling positions from mechanics and drivers to dispatchers, accountants, and safety administrators, some of which had zero experience in transportation.

Anastasiya Chaban, who is currently working as an executive assistant at Caravan holds a law degree and spent the last several years working to develop a family business. She and her three kids spent two months migrating through Europe, trying to find a long-term place to stay after leaving their home in Lviv.

“Coming to Canada was never our plan, even though we have family here. We’ve never even been here before,” Chaban says. “When we talk about deciding to leave the country, you’d probably imagine an adult that makes weighted decisions after a thoughtful process and preparation. You know, that’s what adults usually do. But this was not our case. It was a chaotic and impulsive thing… I was filling out the CUAET application while we were driving from Poland to Italy. There was no strategy, we just lived day by day.”

She’s been working with Caravan for the past three months; however, reflecting on interviews with other Canadian companies, she feels that employers need to be willing to give people a chance and to be prepared to find new ways to introduce them to the business.

“It’s obvious that our English won’t be perfect, we might not be socially adapted in Canada, or have a job experience here…They [companies] just have to be ready to trust us. And Caravan was willing to show that trust.”

The trust that Caravan has put into welcoming these Ukrainian newcomers has not been without challenge.

Some Caravan Group customers require anyone hauling their freight to have a security clearance; however, under the circumstances this can take months to secure as criminal background checks from Ukraine are especially difficult to obtain at this time.

“We’ve asked for exemptions, but some clients are hesitant to provide the clearance if someone’s not a citizen or a permanent resident. Some, however, have been a bit more lenient with it or provided some grace,” said Zoriana Workun, Caravan’s operations director.

Drivers can also face long waiting times while applying for Canadian and American visas, she adds. Some of them have to wait months before being allowed to drive lucrative U.S. routes, but Caravan and the trucking industry have been working diligently to work with these refugees and help them start building their new lives through the process.

Shevchuk and Chaban are two among many who have found jobs in Canada’s trucking industry and are working to adapt to their new lives in a new country, not knowing if they will ever get a chance to return to Ukraine where they both still have family members they desperately would like to see.