How RDN’s Rural Immigration Initiative supported building the capacity of rural communities in better understanding and supporting Ukrainian evacuees

The war in Ukraine has resulted in the largest human displacement crisis in the world today, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). To date, there are an estimated 5.9 million internally displaced people in Ukraine, nearly 8 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded in neighbouring countries and across Europe, and approximately 17.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance this year (UNHCR).

To help Ukrainian nationals and their family members find safety in Canada, the federal government launched the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program in March 2022, which is an accelerated temporary residence pathway for Ukrainians fleeing war. As of the end of May 2023, there were 157,885 individuals who arrived in the country under CUAET (Government of Canada), and 31,000 Ukrainians have registered with Alberta Health across 194 communities (Ukrainians in Alberta). 

Recognizing that communities outside the seven major city centers in Alberta have limited resources, capacity and knowledge regarding the needs of Ukrainian evacuees, the Rural Development Network (RDN), together with Multicultural Health Brokers Cooperative (MCHB) and Action for Healthy Communities (AHC), applied for funding from the Alberta Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies (AAISA) to address this need. The successful proposal’s, Increasing Community Understanding of Ukrainian Evacuees, goal was to build the capacity of rural communities to better support Ukrainian evacuees through the delivery of a virtual workshop series. 

There were four workshops delivered in a span of four months – from February to May 2023. Each workshop was delivered virtually twice per month. Below is a summary of each workshop and what was covered.  

Workshop 1: Providing a Context for Settlement: The Crisis in Ukraine and Canada’s Response – Safe Harbour

In the first workshop, we discussed the extent and scope of the Ukrainian refugee crisis, the long-term impact the conflict has had on Ukrainians; federal and provincial government supports available for evacuees, and we provided a working understanding of the CUAET program. The session was led by Lori Shortreed, Consultant for MCHB. 

“Thank you for putting together the series, always good to have more information to better serve clients.”

Workshop 2: Supporting Ukrainian Evacuee Settlement through a Social Inclusion Lens

The second workshop, also led by Lori, focused on models of healthy integration and settlement of evacuees through social inclusion such as cultural brokering and contextual layers model, a framework for learning more about individuals and families who have come to Canada. Part of the discussion was looking at the protective and risk factors during the pre-migration and migration stages of the evacuees. At the end of the sessions, two cultural brokers from MCHB shared how they effectively support the settlement of Ukrainian newcomers. 

"I learned new approaches and ideas for connecting our Ukrainian clients with the  community in meaningful ways and better leveraging the support systems in our community more."

Workshop 3: Understanding Trauma-Informed Care and Rural Settlement of Ukrainian Evacuees

In this workshop, Karin Linschoten, Training and Outreach Coordinator with the MCHB gave a thought-provoking discussion on the internal experience of someone fleeing war and the impact on behaviour and perception, how trauma develops, symptoms of trauma in adults and children, how to better communicate with and support trauma survivors, and strategies in supporting survivors in rural communities.

“I really enjoyed this workshop, it was easy to understand and helped me understand more about the brain's function in trauma and then the practical elements of how to support someone. I will certainly use this in my work with clients.”

Workshop 4: Systems Navigation for Newcomers to Canada: How to Advocate, Agitate, and Accelerate Clients’ Access to Resources

The last workshop was led by Lisa de Gara, Rural Small Centres Manager with the AHC. Points of discussion were:

  • Understanding and identifying different categories of newcomers to Canada.
  • Understanding what settlement services are, who can access them, and where to find them.
  • Understand how Canadian systems work and the challenges our systems have for newcomers.
  • How to advocate for newcomers in need: efficiently and effectively. 

"I have gotten so much information that I thought I knew but did not...and my best takeaway is the resources that I can provide to the Ukrainian clients to help them thrive in Canada."

Results and Impact of the Workshop Series on Rural Communities

Our workshop series attracted a total of 143 individuals, with 85 attending at least one workshop. The project reached 23 communities across Alberta that included Banff, Brooks, Consort, Devon, Drumheller, Innisfail, Provost, Wainwright, and many more! Other Canadian provinces such as Manitoba, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Nova Scotia were also represented by attendees. For those who attended these workshops, their places of work were typically in settlement organizations, learning centres, multicultural councils, public libraries, private colleges, different forms of governments, school divisions, legal clinics and other non-profits. 

Overall, participants expressed their appreciation for the workshops prepared which have been helpful in understanding the Ukrainian evacuees’ experiences, needs and challenges to better support them in their communities. Our participants’ feedback is a testament that the delivery of the workshop series achieved its goal – building the capacity of all interested and affected parties to better understand the pre- and post-settlement realities of evacuees, a further understanding of the CUAET program, and cultural and trauma-informed education to successfully support the integration and settlement of Ukrainian evacuees across Alberta. 

The project has been an incredible success thanks to the powerful partnership between RDN, MCHB and AHC. This collaboration truly exemplifies the importance of working together across different sectors. RDN's expertise in rurality, MCHB's expertise in community development, and AHC's expertise in providing settlement services have synergized perfectly, allowing us to develop the workshop series through multiple lenses. Here are quotes that our partner organizations shared: 

 "As a professional working in rural settlement, I know that the needs of immigrants in small communities are frequently overlooked. When those immigrants are in crisis and a constantly changing environment, as was true for the Ukrainian arrivals through CUAET, the work becomes even more challenging! I was very thankful that RDN stepped up to the plate to offer coordination of workshops to teach about the new arrivals and how we can support them effectively in communities throughout Alberta and Canada at large." - Lisa de Gara, Manager, Small Centres, Action for Healthy Communities.

“The Multicultural Health Brokers Cooperative Ltd. are grateful for the opportunity to partner with the RDN and Action for Healthy Communities in this innovative project to engage with and bolster rural community efforts to support Ukrainian evacuees arriving in their communities. In this unprecedented situation, projects such as this help us all to collaborate in creating holistic approaches to settlement - and beyond – that truly meet evacuee and other newcomer needs and in doing so lay the ground for socially inclusive communities across Canada. Thank you!” - Lori Shortreed, Consultant for MCHB.

Again, we’d like to thank our funders – AAISA and the Government of Alberta as its funding partner, our partner organizations – MCHB and AHC, and all participants who took the time to attend the workshop series!    

For more information on this project, please reach out to Elaine Flores at


Holly Udall