Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Uniting for Ukraine


WORLD Radio - Uniting for Ukraine

Some Americans are helping to sponsor Ukrainian refugees


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Ukrainian refugees.

In March, President Biden pledged to welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees to the United States. So far, the number who’ve arrived is one and a half times that number.

NICK EICHER, HOST: The administration put in place a program it says gets around the typical delays refugees face. It’s called Uniting for Ukraine. It allows Ukrainians stay in the United States for two years so long as an American sponsor can support them financially.

WORLD’s Addie Offereins spoke with sponsors and refugees about how the program is working.

LIEL: In the region where they lived it was, you know, there was bombing and everywhere where they lived. Her parents are still there three months with no water and gas.

ADDIE OFFEREINS, REPORTER: Liel Cheri translates for her cousin, Tanya Cherepanova.

LIEL: Can you imagine yourself living in a house with no water or gas for three months?

They sit at Liel’s large dining room table in a spacious two-story home in Round Rock, Texas—a suburb of Austin.

Shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Tanya and her 10-year-old twin daughters fled for neighboring Poland.

They traveled with two suitcases and left everything else behind. In Poland, they joined about 1.3 million other Ukrainian refugees. In Round Rock, Liel wanted to find a way to get them to Texas.

LIEL: We heard people can cross the border through Mexico like Tijuana, whatever. So we were trying to bring them to Tijuana and to get them there.

They bought tickets to Tijuana. Liel bought a ticket to meet them in San Diego.

LIEL: And then, literally, two days before their flight, they announced that they're closing the border. Because of Uniting for Ukraine.


Ukrainians could no longer cross the U.S.-Mexico border without visas. Instead, Liel applied to sponsor Tanya and her family.

LIEL: They had just about the program, nobody knew how it's gonna work, what it's gonna be. So I applied for sponsorship

While the U.S. government processed sponsorship applications, Tanya and her daughters waited in a Mexico City camp with 600 others.

LIEL: They put huge tents together here's like tents for families for women so it could be up to I don't know 50 People in the same tent so you had like little mattresses next to one another. Showers were outside and the bathrooms were outside.

Volunteers served food and Church groups led services.

PRAYER AT THE CAMP: ... We just say we want our worship to be for you God...

LIEL: There were a lot of religious people, you know, so they were praying for, praying.

A few weeks later, Tanya and her family arrived in Austin on May 16th. In total, their journey from Ukraine to Texas took almost two months.

Tanya wants to work and support her family, but she doesn’t speak English and is still waiting on work authorization.

LIEL: Like, we need to pay for everything, you know. And they are not allowed to work. They are waiting for work authorization. So, I mean, so they, they allow them to get into the country and what? So she wants to work, you know, to support her family. She can't.

This is the reality for many Ukrainians who come through the Uniting for Ukraine program.

SOERENS: One of the challenges is because it was a fairly quickly thrown together program that isn't going through the authority of the Refugee Act, which is already law

Matthew Soerens is the U.S. director of church mobilization and advocacy for World Relief.

SOERENS: Had these individuals come as refugees, they would qualify clearly, for some specific services, they'd also qualify for work authorization, the day they arrived.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says it is expediting those work authorizations. But it can still take several months.

And what happens when Ukrainians’ two years in the U.S. are up?

SOERENS: We're hopeful they'll be able to go back to Ukraine and the war will be over, it'll be safe, then. But it's very possible, that won't be the case. Or, there will be people who really want to stay here, especially those who are now with extended family in the United States. And it's not clear that there's a legal process for them to do so.

Like Afghans who fled to the United States when the Taliban took over, Ukrainians with this temporary status have few options.

SOERENS: What we would encourage Congress and the administration to do is to really invest in fixing the refugee resettlement process, so that the next time there's a crisis like this, people can just be brought in formally as refugees and not have to go through this process that has a lot of limitations.

Soerens says it's important that churches and other groups come alongside sponsors and refugees. It could be as simple as helping to drive a refugee to a government appointment.

SOERENS: I think stepping up to sponsor is great, but also reaching out to the resettlement agency in your community World Relief or others and saying, Hey, are there you know, people who are kind of falling through some cracks, who we could help support? Whose sponsors may not have been able to do so

Sponsoring a family is a big job, and Liel has appreciated support.

LIEL: So it will be nice if they're going to have any resources, where to go, how to apply or people around helping, like our neighborhood is amazing whenever they post, like, I have like family from Ukraine, so people bought some clothing.

Tanya’s ten-year-old girls wear matching glasses. Their favorite thing about America so far? Chocolate milk. Like Tanya, they don’t speak any English. So they were a little nervous about starting school.

LIEL: It's a different world you know, we're trying to introduce them to kids, but when they don't speak English at all, that's mean. So hopefully now when they get to start school, things are gonna get a little easier. They were gonna get more comfortable.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Addie Offereins in Round Rock, Texas.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


Please wait while we load the latest comments...