Minnesota organizations are ready to welcome Ukrainian refugees

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It’s been one month since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, and data from the United Nations shows more than 3.7 million Ukrainians have fled the country.

More than 10 million Ukrainians have been displaced from their homes.

President Biden announced on Thursday the United States will welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing the war.

According to a State Department spokesperson, Ukrainians will be able to enter the country through a variety of pathways, including the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, visas, and humanitarian parole.

“I appreciate the announcement, I wish it had been for a larger number,” said Myron Hawryluk, who moved to the United States from Ukraine many years ago. “I think the Ukrainians here, in general, would support a larger immigration, they’d be happy to have the people stay, help them out in any way possible.”

On Friday, he was at the Ukrainian American Community Center in Minneapolis. The center was buzzing with activity as cars lined up outside to pick up the weekly Lenten fish fry.

Hawryluk has experienced the generosity of the Ukrainian-American community first-hand as a refugee. He was born in a displaced person’s camp in Germany, and he was just three and a half years old when his parents came to America through a sponsor in 1950 following World War II.

“The sponsor was responsible for the person’s transportation here, they were responsible for their food here, for where they would sleep, responsible basically to help them find a job,” he explained.

After arriving through Ellis Island, they lived in the Buffalo, New York suburb of Lackawanna. His mother started working on a farm while his father got a job at Bethlehem Steel.

The vibrant Ukrainian community welcomed them.

“When we came here, I knew no English,” he said. “By the age of five, when I went to kindergarten, I still knew no English at the time. [The people we] hung around basically were Ukrainian, so we spoke Ukrainian all the time.”

A few years later, a relative helped them relocate to Minnesota. His parents continued to work, they bought a house and built a life.

“My first country is America, but I never forget Ukraine,” he said. “Ukrainians have gotten to be fairly well educated, they’re not going to come here like my parents did with barely a second-grade education … A lot of them have an education, it might be in computers, might be in something else and they want to work, they want to make something of themselves.”

A map at the Ukrainian American Community Center shows many members still have loved ones in dozens of locations throughout the country.

“What we all really want is for the Ukrainians to be able to go back to their country and rebuild, and that’s what the Ukrainian want as well, so what we hope this would be would be a temporary measure,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, remarking on President Biden’s announcement.

A spokesperson for the State Department told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS it’s difficult to know how quickly the United States will hit the 100,000 person mark, and there is no deadline.

Sen. Klobuchar pledged Minnesota would welcome people fleeing Ukraine.

“There’s a really big population here of Ukrainian-Americans, which might mean we would get a higher percentage of the refugees because a lot of times they decide that they’ll send people to the state where they have other people that come from their part of the world,” she said.

The State Department expects it will have a better sense of how many Ukrainians will be interested in coming to the United States in the weeks to come.

“We do expect that in a couple of weeks that we’ll get more definition from the State Department,” said Jane Graupman, the executive director at International Institute of Minnesota. “The State Department has to figure out through which program the Ukrainians will come.”

Graupman said their organization is prepared to help Ukrainians resettle in Minnesota. She explained it typically takes about 18 months to get through the Refugee Admissions Program.

“With the Afghan program, for example, folks started coming under the refugee status but then that took too long so they used the humanitarian parole program to process people more quickly,” she said. “They could do that with Ukrainians as well.”

The State Department said it’s keeping options open for Ukrainians, acknowledging some avenues may be swifter and better suited than the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, depending on the individual situation.

“People in Ukraine and people that come to Minnesota will most likely will be rejoining family members that are here,” said Graupman. “I would guess that by maybe late summer and maybe sooner but the fall and next year, we’ll see the bigger numbers arriving to our state and to our country.”

Regardless of when they arrive, Hawryluk said there would be a community waiting to support them.

“People will help out, Ukrainians do help each other,” he said.