Local agencies, advocates prepare in anticipation of Ukrainian refugees
Elected officials have stated they’ll welcome Ukrainian refugees to New York State and to the Buffalo area. The local Ukrainian-American community says it’s getting ready to provide the support any incoming refugees may need.
Organizations that work with refugees and Ukranian-American organizations are already at work preparing an expected eventual arrival of Ukranians fleeing their land, as Russian invaders continue their military invasion. Elected officials, including New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, have already expressed their support for bringing in Ukrainian refugees.
“We already have a working group from our emergency meeting that's happening. So we are identifying homes that can take refugees,” said Dianna Derhak, a member of numerous local Ukrainian organizations. “And also, we're in contact with the different organizations that have already been dealing with refugees like Journey’s End, so that we're working in close collaboration with them.”
More than one million people identifying as Ukrainian live in the United States. Nearly 8,200, according to Census data, live in the Buffalo-Niagara area.
“This is not the first go-around for Ukrainians leaving Ukraine and coming to the United States. Both World Wars resulted in that. And then more recently when Ukraine, when independent people came for opportunities,” said Yuri Hreshchyshyn, who chairs the Buffalo chapter of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. “And it should be noted that many Ukrainians speak English. This should come as no surprise. This is a Western-oriented society.”
Having a settled Ukrainian-American community dating back generations, advocates say, will give incoming refugees and immigrants a potentially smoother transition.
Anatoliy Aponchuk, along with his brother Vitaliy, owns a roofing company in the Town of Tonawanda. He was born in Ukraine, but came to the U.S. as a boy in 2003. He says when his family arrived, there was already support to help them settle in their new home.
“When we moved here, we had a lot of family already living in Buffalo,” he said. “And also… between Ukraine and Russian, Belorussians, there's a lot of people here in that community. So the adjustment was pretty easy to kind of move into the community that speaks your language or a similar language to you.”
Some participants in local pro-Ukraine rallies do not necessarily have Ukrainian heritage, but have come to sympathize with the Ukrainian cause because of a mutual dislike of the Russian regime, dating back to its Soviet past. Polish and Estonian flags could also be seen at a recent rally in Niagara Square. Michael Mottern, who has Estonian heritage, says his grandfather was arrested and tried by a Soviet military tribunal in 1940, and died while serving a sentence in a Siberian labor camp.
“His sentence was seven years hard labor. He only lasted three,” he said. “It was just unthinkable when I heard what Putin was doing in Ukraine. It's pretty rare to turn this around.”
Also in attendance at a March 1 Niagara Square rally was a young woman who identified herself only as Fata. She was born in Bosnia and as a child became a refugee. She now expresses her support for Ukrainians fleeing their homes because of violence.
“It's just been a struggle to find a sense of home. I've definitely found that in Buffalo. And I think that as long as there are open arms somewhere, that those who are displaced would be able to find a new home,” Fata said. “But it's a lot of suffering. It's a lot of pain. It's a lot of worrying about relatives and wishing for better.”
Late Thursday, it was reported Ukrainian nationals currently in the United States would be granted Temporary Protected Status by the Biden Administration, meaning they would be allowed to stay in the U.S., even after their visas expire.