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Birth in bomb shelters: Ukrainian midwives look to Canada for training

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Olena Boiko recalls being in a state of shock when nurses began to wheel her on a gurney toward the basement bomb shelter while she was in labour to give birth to her first child.

She was seven months pregnant when Russia began its brutal invasion of Ukraine, causing families in Boiko’s town of Lviv in the western region of the country to live under the constant threat of missile attacks.

Unsure of where to go, Boiko and her husband, Volodymyr, retreated to the countryside. They soon realized they were no safer there than in the city. They opted to return to Lviv for the birth, assured by her doctors that she would be able to have her baby in the bomb shelter if necessary.

“We were shocked, but we didn’t have a choice,” Boiko said in Ukrainian through a translator, while pushing her son, Yaroslav, now 10 months old, in his stroller through Lviv on Saturday.

Midwives in Ukraine want women facing labour during the war to be offered that choice of where to give birth.

They are looking to Canada as an example of how to make it happen.

In a large wooden chalet tucked away in a remote village in the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine, a group of about 30 midwives gathered around Ottawa midwife Betty-Anne Daviss on Friday as she explained how to deliver babies outside of the hospital and how the practice is regulated in Canada.

It was the first training provided by the Ukrainian Association of Midwives, which was officially formed late last year at the urging of Daviss.

Midwives are regulated in Ukraine, but only in hospitals. They are not licensed to attend home births.

That has left them to make difficult decisions about what to do when women cannot, or will not, go to the hospital.

“There was a category of women who called and asked me to come and assist them with birth at their homes or in a bomb shelter (because) a rocket can hit a medical facility,” Svitlana Rudchenko, a midwife from the county’s capital city Kyiv, said in Ukrainian.

“There were also women who were very anxious, did not want to go beyond their comfort zone, and were afraid to go to the clinic.”

Anastasia Menzhynska, the midwife who heads the new association, said she’s had to deliver babies in bomb shelters, and even coach women in occupied territories through their labour online.

The problem is, Menzhynska said, midwives aren’t just lacking permission to do home births. They also do not have the training to deliver babies outside of hospital.

That’s why Daviss has travelled back and forth between Canada and Ukraine several times since the war began to teach them.

Daviss, who has previously travelled to Guatemala and Afghanistan, has trained the Ukrainian midwives on what to do in cases of postpartum hemorrhage. She has also taught them how to proceed when the baby is not in a good position for birth, if its shoulder gets stuck, or the mother is having twins, and how to resuscitate an infant that is not breathing.

“We had seen that people are having births in bomb shelters and subway stations and I thought they really need to get themselves organized,” Daviss said in an interview in one of the chalet’s cosy rooms.

Daviss is also teaching them skills of a more political nature, like how to lobby their government to grant them more leeway and offer more professional recognition for their work.

“They have always been in the system so they don’t want to do it outside the system. They want it to be legal and they want it to be safe and they want it to be well integrated,” she said.

She told the group how Canadian midwives fought for regulation in Ontario 30 years ago.

Since then, the number of midwives in Canada has jumped from roughly 60 in 1994 to 1,700 in 2019 as more provinces followed Ontario’s lead, according to a 2019 article by Kathi Wilson, an assistant professor in the department of midwifery at McMaster University in Hamilton.

Boiko said she would not have chosen a home birth for herself, as she prefers the medical security of the hospital.

“Of course, if there are regular shellings, and there is nowhere to be except one’s basement, then the midwife should be with the woman,” she said through a translator.

Daviss said that might be enough to open the doors for women who would prefer a home birth.

“Where there’s war, that’s when categories are going to change,” she said.

“That’s when people are going to start to think outside the box.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2023.

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K’omoks First Nation signs draft treaty with B.C., federal governments

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COURTENAY, BRITISH COLUMBIA – Officials with the K’omoks First Nation and the B.C. and federal governments have signed a draft treaty in a step toward the nation’s self-governance.

K’omoks Chief Ken Price says it was an “exciting, memorable, and emotional day” for the community on Vancouver Island as it marked another step toward a treaty.

Price says in a statement that many K’omoks leaders have been part of negotiations over the last 30 years aiming to “build the best treaty possible.”

He says treaties are “the highest form of reconciliation between nations.”

The draft treaty must still be ratified by a vote among K’omoks members, and Price says the next step is to ensure questions are answered to ensure their community members feel they are making an informed decision.

A statement from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada says the initialling marks a milestone on the nation’s path to self-governance.

If the 351 registered K’omoks members vote to ratify the treaty, the statement says the B.C. and federal governments would then adopt it through legislation.

The full ratification process is expected to take three years, with the treaty coming into effect in 2028, the statement says.

The minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, Gary Anandasangaree, says the initialling “marks a pivotal step away from centuries of colonial policies.”

“After 30 years of negotiations involving K’omoks, Canada, and British Columbia, this treaty embodies transformative policy innovations crucial to advancing reconciliation,” he says in the statement. “For Canada, achieving this milestone … represents a significant stride toward genuine nation-to-nation relationships built on mutual respect, partnership, and the full recognition of rights.”

K’omoks is the latest First Nations to sign a draft treaty with the federal and provincial governments, following proposed deals with the Kitselas Nation and the Kitsumkalum Band, part of the Tsimshian First Nation in B.C.’s northwest.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.

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More zebra mussels found in Manitoba, this time in a popular reservoir

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WINNIPEG – The Manitoba government is dealing with another discovery of zebra mussels.

The province says two positive samples have been detected in the St. Malo Reservoir — a popular swimming, kayaking and camping destination in a provincial park south of Winnipeg.

Conservation officers are monitoring the area to make sure boaters clean their watercraft.

Zebra mussels are an invasive aquatic species that can harm fish populations and clog water intake systems.

Last fall, Parks Canada found live zebra mussels in Clear Lake north of Brandon, Man., and later closed the lake to most watercraft.

Earlier this month, Parks Canada found an adult zebra mussel in a cove in Clear Lake, suggesting the mollusks are building a presence in the lake.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.

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Tenants offered accommodations and support after surprise mass eviction

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WINNIPEG – Some tenants of an apartment building moved back in Monday, more than a week after they say they were forced out on a few hours’ notice by a new landlord who put some of their belongings on the front lawn.

“(I’ll) start over, I guess,” said Devony Hudson, who picked up a new set of keys Monday morning as police officers, a private security firm and Manitoba government workers kept an eye on the three-storey brick building, built more than a century ago.

Some of the building’s windows were broken or boarded up. A notice on the front door from the Winnipeg Fire Department said the fire alarm and sprinkler system were out of service.

Hudson said a caretaker came to her door two weekends ago, told her she had to leave immediately and offered her a few hundred dollars. Shortly after, her belongings were outside.

“I just went for a walk, just for like 10 minutes, came back and it was … all on the front lawn.”

Hudson has been spending the last few days in a nearby house that does not have working electricity.

In another suite, Kyle Lemke got a knock on the door. He said he was told the locks were being changed, and a man he had never met who said he was the owner told him he had to leave within 24 hours and offered some money.

“I threw out so much stuff,” Lemke recalled while standing outside a hotel where he has been staying.

“I had maybe four garbage bags and a laundry bag, but I wasn’t able to take everything,” said Lemke, who walks with a limp after almost losing a leg months ago to necrotizing fasciitis.

Lemke said he was told everyone had to leave because of an order from the city over fire hazards, but the city never gave an evacuation order.

Attempts by The Canadian Press to reach the building’s owner were unsuccessful.

The Manitoba government moved last week to support the tenants.

The provincial minister for housing, Bernadette Smith, said the actions the tenants described are illegal and an investigation is underway.

The residential tenancies branch issued orders to the landlord, had the locks changed and made arrangements for the tenants to start returning. The province offered tenants emergency accommodations and per diems for food.

But some tenants were not able to be tracked down.

Marion Willis, who runs an outreach program that helps people find housing and other services, said some tenants had previously been in encampments and had nowhere to go when they were told to leave.

“We have tried to find people. There’s people in encampments, there’s people that are couch-surfing in other buildings. There’s people that are just sleeping out on the street,” said Willis, executive director of St. Boniface Street Links.

Some tenants may be reluctant to return for fear that they may simply face a more formal eviction process and end up homeless again.

Lemke said he has no interest in going back, and had a new apartment lined up. He’d like to see someone held accountable.

“I would like to see justice,” he said.

“You can’t just do that to people.”

The provincial government said Monday at least two tenants had returned over the weekend and a probe of the landlord’s actions was ongoing.

“In this situation, the (residential tenancies branch) has a number of options available, but is still working through the investigation,” said a written statement from the government’s central communications office.

“Depending on the outcome of the investigations, these measures could include the imposition of further orders, administrative fines and prosecution for contraventions under the legislation.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.



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