Ukrainian families found a welcome refuge in Hawaii, but face an uncertain future

Ukrainian families found a welcome refuge in Hawaii, but face an uncertain future
Published: Jul. 5, 2022 at 3:27 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 5, 2022 at 5:22 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Ukrainian families fleeing the danger back home are finding sanctuary in Hawaii.

But as the war drags on, their future is unclear.

More than 5 million Ukrainians have been displaced by the Russian invasion and dozens have come to Hawaii for refuge.

Under U.S. immigration law, Ukrainians can apply for temporary protected status to resettle here. But the process is slow and cumbersome, leaving many in limbo.

“There’s a ton of other paperwork, ton of applications verifications bedding that has to go on. And that takes, that takes time. and unfortunately, it takes money as well,” said En Young, executive director of local nonprofit Pacific Gateway Center, which helps immigrants and refugees from across the world through the bureaucracy of starting new lives in Hawaii.

They’re working with about 25 families from Ukraine to get temporary protected status.

“A lot of them will have to play application fees, sometimes on a per household member basis. So, you know, could be $200 for a single household. But for households with multiple family members, you know, this could run up into the $1,000s,” Young said.

The nonprofit works with private donors to cover those costs as well as housing, food, clothing and other needs for refugees.

“Most of our housing right now is through a few local donors that have generously opened up empty homes or sometimes their own home,” Young said.

Some Hawaii residents are opening up their homes to displaced Ukrainians.

“We felt that this was more personal and providing help to somebody from Ukraine,” said Tom Millard. “It just felt like the right thing for us to do for the time.”

He and his wife, Susanne, are hosting Alena Zhura, her daughter Natalie and her mother Natasha, who went from being visitors to refugees. Susanne says little things like bringing Zhura to an Aloha United Way charity event creates a sense of normalcy for her.

“She got to interact with other ladies in beautiful Neiman Marcus fashion and feel like a young woman again, and not a refugee in this country,” Susanne Millard said.

“It was really hard the first few weeks to watch them sit on the sofa and go, this is happening to to my country.”

“Just listening is really the biggest thing that we can contribute. Anybody else can contribute to refugees, whether they’re from Ukraine or from other countries,” Tom Millard added.

Zhura and her family are doing their best to adjust.

“My work, my life, my family, everything is connected to Ukraine. And this is this is the opposite side of the world,” Zhura said. “They found us housing in this area, by the ocean.

“So we were trying to enjoy the beauty of nature. And it’s also big help for mental health.”

But she worries about her father and friends back home.

“It’s been terrible, scary, dangerous, stressful,” she said.

Adding to the stress: Navigating America’s immigration system of biometric and biographic screening, and background checks.

“We applied on May 10. And the processing time for the receiving of the status is up to six months. And together with the status, we can apply for work authorization, which also take takes three or more months to receive it,” she said.

“Social institutes and organizations work so well to help people during this waiting time to help with financially with housing with information with every way they can. And that’s that’s been a great help.”

Until then, it’s a waiting game. For more than four months, she’s had to rely on the generosity of others.

“I was never in a position in my life where I needed help,” Zhura said. “Now I understand that, how important it is to help organizations that help refugees.”

With Ukrainians unlikely to be able to return to their country for years, immigration advocates want the U.S. to offer long-term options, like a path to permanent residency.

For now, they need help getting the basics covered.

“If you have some funding and want to support some new Americans, you know, this is this is one of the, this is one of the times to do it,” said Young, of Pacific Gateway Center.

President Joe Biden also established a humanitarian parole program to bring in 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing the war.

Applicants can stay for up to two years with documented support from a U.S. sponsor.

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