Ukrainians fleeing war find support and a guiding hand in our CIUSSS

Members of the team at the CLSC de Côte-des-Neiges who provide care to Ukrainian exiles: (from left), Nurse Clinician Geneviève Groulx, Nurse Clinician Mariya Sylyuk and family physician Dr. Gilles De Margerie.
Members of the team at the CLSC de Côte-des-Neiges who provide care to Ukrainian exiles: (from left), Nurse Clinician Geneviève Groulx, Nurse Clinician Mariya Sylyuk and family physician Dr. Gilles De Margerie.

Oleksandr and Svitlana have left Ukraine, but Ukraine has not left them. Though they’re safe now in Canada, the couple from Kyiv is consumed by worry about family trying to survive the war back home.

“My parents, my brother, his children, they’re still there,” Oleksandr says. “It’s terrible. War shouldn’t exist anywhere.”

While they cope with life in exile, Oleksandr and Svitlana* can at least rely on the comfort and guidance of our CIUSSS’s health professionals. Since the invasion of Ukraine one year ago, a devoted team of nurses, doctors and social workers has been helping those displaced by war to get a healthy start in a new land.

Working out of offices at the CLSC de Côte-des-Neiges, Nurse Clinicians Geneviève Groulx and Mariya Sylyuk, as well as family physician Dr. Gilles De Margerie, provide the first point of medical contact for hundreds of Ukrainians who are rebuilding their lives in the shadow of war.

For people like Oleksandr and Svitlana, who visited the CLSC recently along with their two young children, that means getting a medical evaluation, renewing prescriptions or securing a referral to a medical specialist if required. More generally, it means they obtained an entry point into the healthcare system of their adoptive home.

“They deserve answers to their questions. I want them to feel welcome in a healthcare system that’s new to them.”

Geneviève Groulx

Recently, a Ukrainian woman came to see Ms. Groulx and brought her child, who had epilepsy; the mother was worried about what to do if the child had a seizure. Ms. Groulx referred the family to a pediatric clinic at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, wrote down the information about the hospital’s Emergency Department, and followed up with an email summarizing the various services.

“My job is to listen to people and respond to their real needs,” she says. “They’ve shown a lot of resilience. I want to show them consideration and a human approach.”

Ms. Sylyuk has a particular bond with the new arrivals. When she was 10 years old, her parents emigrated to Canada from Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv that suffered especially brutal devastation in the war. Ms. Sylyuk is able to communicate with Ukrainian patients in their native tongue and is sensitive to what they’re experiencing.

“When they tell me that their children are attending a classe d’accueil, (welcome classes for non-francophone immigrant children to Quebec), I can say that I went to a classe d’accueil too,” she says. “I can reassure them that, with time, they’ll adapt.”

Through her nursing work, she’s able to have a direct impact to help the Ukrainians find their footing, she says.

“I know that if my parents hadn’t decided to leave Ukraine, I’d still be there. To have the chance to help through my job is fantastic. I feel I’m contributing.”

Mariya Sylyuk

Ukrainian exiles in Montreal are aided through the Regional Program for the Settlement and Integration of Asylum Seekers (PRAIDA), which is overseen by the Frontline Integrated Services Directorate of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal. More than 300 Ukrainians have benefitted from PRAIDA’s services since fleeing their homeland a year ago. (They were eligible to come to Canada through a federal emergency travel program and are not considered refugees).

Many Ukrainians displaced by the war suffer from the trauma of violence and exile; families are often divided because fathers and sons have been conscripted into military service in Ukraine. Many are also coping with the immediate stresses of finding work and settling into a new land.

“There’s distress, there’s anxiety. They’re often in adrenaline mode,” explains Dr. De Margerie, who coordinates the clinic for refugees and asylum seekers at the CLSC de Côte-des-Neiges, which cares for people from around the world.

“This is an ongoing war, and just because it’s safe here doesn’t change the reality of what’s going on in Ukraine.”

Dr. Gilles De Margerie

But the Ukrainians he’s seen have also shown great resilience, he says. It’s why helping them find their way through our healthcare system is so critical.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like to arrive in Quebec without this kind of support,” he says. “It’s essential for a person’s immediate integration.”

In addition to a medical screening at CLSC de Côte-des-Neiges, Ukrainians are entitled to an assessment of their well-being, including referrals for community services and resources. This service is offered by CIUSSS social workers at PRAIDA’s offices in Ahuntsic-Cartierville. At both sites, interpreters are made available on request.

*Their names have been changed to protect their identities.