Americans Hosting Ukrainian Refugees Encounter ‘Incredibly Difficult’ Process

TAMPA, Fla. — When Roaya and Tony Tyson saw the footage in March of Ukrainian families fleeing their homeland, the couple looked around their three-bedroom home in Tampa, Fla., and knew they had to do something.

“Some people were sending money,” Roaya said. “But we wanted to do more.”

After researching online, the Tysons, who have no children, found the website of Spring of Life, a Ukrainian church based in Sacramento County, California that has matched hundreds of Ukrainian families with American hosts.

“We told them that we had room in our house for two or three people,” Roaya said. “They told us they had a family of four. So we said okay, bring them!”

Two days later, Yuliia Venhlinska and her husband, Serhii Donet, arrived, along with their two sons, Max, 11, and Mark, 3, transforming the Tysons’ once-quiet two-adult home into a bustling house of six.

John and Lisa Monaco, self-described “empty kids,” opened their Tampa home in April to Masha and Vladimir Halytska and the couple’s three children. “Now we have toys, strollers and shoes everywhere,” John said. “I love it!”susana morgan

A 10-minute drive from the Tysons, another Tampa home was also growing. John and Lisa Monaco, both doctors, decided to open the second floor of their house to a Ukrainian family.

Spring of Life Church paired them with Masha and Vladimir Halytska and their three children, Vasilisa, 11, Lev, 7, and Danylo, 3.

“Two weeks ago our house was empty and quiet,” said John, whose youngest son is in college. “Now we have toys, strollers and shoes everywhere. I love it!”

The Tysons and the Monacos opening their homes to Ukrainian refugees are examples not only of strangers helping strangers, but also of American hosts and Ukrainian refugees learning to navigate a complicated resettlement system. In some cases, their experiences have proven more difficult than recent refugee resettlements in the US and more challenging than many anticipated.

For one thing, American host families say there have been ample rewards.

“I love having a loud and laughter-filled home,” said Lisa Monaco, noting that she has enjoyed teaching Vasilisa how to do crafts and transforming the family’s garden into a soccer field for Lev.

“Every night we have a family dinner, the seven of us.

On the other hand, there has been an often formidable mountain of paperwork.

“It’s not an easy process,” Roaya Tyson said of the experience of helping Venhlinska, Donet and their children settle in the United States. “It has been incredibly difficult. In many cases, you can’t get a document if you don’t have other documents, so it’s been a dilemma.”

The challenges are not unique, said Chris George, executive director of Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, a Connecticut-based refugee resettlement agency.

“Welcome and resettle refugees or people on humanitarian parole is not easy. I can’t imagine a person or couple doing this without help.”

‘They don’t know what they’re getting into’

Under the United for Ukraine program, run by the Department of Homeland Security, up to 100,000 Ukrainians will be able to resettle in the US under humanitarian parole, which is separate from the State Department’s Refugee Admissions program. Unlike that program, Ukrainians admitted on humanitarian parole will not receive the benefits of refugee status, which include work authorization, health care and housing assistance.

In the fall, 78,000 Afghans came to the US as humanitarian parolees. Congress provided emergency funds for Afghans to receive health care, housing allowances, and work visas. Such assistance has not been provided to Ukrainian refugees.

That means, George said, that there is a considerable burden on individual American sponsors and families who raise their hands to take in Ukrainian refugees because they lack the resources of the aid organizations the government normally turns to to resettle refugees. refugees.

“The current system puts too much pressure on sponsors,” George said. “They are accepting the pressure willingly, but honestly, they don’t know what to expect. All of these necessary tasks are time-consuming, like enrolling children in school, finding medical care, helping someone find a job, helping them integrate into the community.”

In the case of Venhlinska and Masha Halytska and their families, Susan Morgan, a social worker from Florida, volunteered to help. Morgan serves as a contact person for several Ukrainian families resettling in the US.

“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Morgan said.

The long list of things Ukrainians must do to settle is considerable, according to Morgan. In addition to state IDs, Ukrainians coming to the US need help getting driver’s licenses, applying for work visas, finding affordable housing, finding children’s schools, and getting physicals.

Host families and sponsors must also take into account, Morgan said, the trauma that Ukrainians have endured.

“You are bringing a family that has left their home, their family,” Morgan said. “They have losses. So even though a lot of times people are happy to get here, they’re still experiencing trauma.”

A complicated and uneven process

In the Halytskas’ case, the family was forced to flee their home in Dnipro in the middle of the night when Russian bombs fell on their neighbourhood.

Masha and Vladimir Halytska fled their home in Dnipro, Ukraine, with their three young children after Russian bombs destroyed buildings in their neighborhood.
Masha and Vladimir Halytska fled their home in Dnipro, Ukraine, with their three young children after Russian bombs destroyed buildings in their neighborhood.masha halytska

“The children were very scared,” said Masha. “They could hear the sirens all around them, see the smoke and buildings on fire.”

The family fled with only a couple of bags and a ukulele. They slept in the car for days before leaving the Ukraine.

Even the youngest children have experienced trauma, said Morgan, who noted that 3-year-old Mark from Venhlinska spent his first few weeks with the Tysons hidden under furniture, still fearful of Russian bombing.

Ukrainian refugees Danylo, 3, Lev, 7, and Vasilisa Halytska, 11, slept in the car for several days while their family tried to leave Ukraine.
Ukrainian refugees Danylo, 3, Lev, 7, and Vasilisa Halytska, 11, slept in the car for several days while their family tried to leave Ukraine. They arrived in the United States in April.masha halytska

Although it will be challenging for Ukrainians to resettle in the US in the coming weeks and months, critics have pointed out that they have received better treatment in some cases than other refugees seeking asylum here, particularly those along the US border. USA and Mexico. In many cases, the Ukrainians were able to move to the front of the line.

“It is not the fault of the Ukrainians that they have sometimes received preferential treatment,” George said, noting that in many cases they have received better treatment than refugees from El Salvador, Honduras and Syria. “We shouldn’t blame them, but we should blame the people at the border for the way they force other people fleeing dangerous conditions to wait many months in dangerous situations.”

George hopes that the United for Ukraine program will implement an orientation and training program in the coming weeks to help Ukrainian refugees and host families navigate the resettlement process more smoothly.

“We have always believed in the ability of an ordinary American to step up and welcome refugees, but ordinary Americans need help.”

Roaya and Tony Tyson say their three-bedroom home was quiet before taking in Ukrainian refugees Yuliia Venhlinska and Serhii Donet and the couple's two sons, Max, 11, and Mark, 3.
Roaya and Tony Tyson say their three-bedroom home was quiet before taking in Ukrainian refugees Yuliia Venhlinska and Serhii Donet and the couple’s two sons, Max, 11, and Mark, 3.Mary Pflum

While they feel overwhelmed at times, for now, Venhlinska and Masha Halytska say they are happy to have found their way to the US.

“We feel safe now,” Halytska said. “Now we can breathe.”

Both mothers will enroll their children in Tampa-area public schools in the fall, and both families are awaiting work visas, which will likely take months.

“We want to work,” said Venhlinska, who was a chemist in Ukraine.

“We don’t want to depend on anyone’s support, even if it’s very helpful,” said Halytska, who worked as a nutritionist in Ukraine and whose husband owned and operated his own trucking company.

Their hosts, strangers they once called family, say no matter how daunting the resettlement process can be at times, they are happy to have opened their homes and hearts.

“Now I consider Yuliia a daughter,” said Roaya Tyson.

“It’s really a gift,” agreed John Monaco. “They get to be in a safe home and we feel like we’re doing something in what I consider to be a global war of good versus evil. We feel like we are the grandparents and the children and grandchildren have come home.”

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