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US Programs Aid Ukrainian Refugees, But It’s Not All Roses (January 2023)

Alan Bye, Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting

@ International Foundation for World Freedom

Mariaa Holovan was a personal trainer in Ukraine when, like millions of other Ukrainians, she found herself displaced by the war with Russia. Now she finds herself living with the Joneses, a family in North Carolina, and having to start completely anew (Wall Street Journal). The war has led to the highest levels of refugee traffic into the United States in decades, with over 100,000 Ukrainian refugees being accepted into the country thus far, with over 171,000 applications from Americans to sponsor them. All of this was paved for by the unprecedented Uniting for Ukraine program, which allows Ukrainians with sponsored financial support to stay in the country for 2 years once they pass the necessary security checks and vaccination requirements.

Once in the country, Ukrainian refugees can gain access to Social Security numbers, work permits, medical coverage, and food and cash assistance, all provided for by government programs. And while the American government has done wonders in aiding the Ukrainian people with a swiftness that is unheard of in this country, there are still many struggles that the Ukrainian refugees have to deal with throughout their journeys.

Getting to America in the first place is hard and dangerous for many refugees — they often have to make the trek through Mexico first, where they go through a long and grueling process to gain entry into the United States. Ukrainian refugees in Mexico are unfortunately in danger of identity theft, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking, as the US-Mexico border is plagued by Mexican traffickers. In some instances, some Ukrainian youth have disappeared at the border (Al Jazeera).

And once Ukrainians do find refuge in the United States, there is still a slew of other issues that make their stay in the country difficult. One refugee explained that even though the government programs do their best to help with education, job placement, and housing, the process still poses significant challenges: “We are extremely limited, not just on workspaces, but also on housing.” (Al Jazeera).

The language barrier and societal differences between the United States and Ukraine make it difficult for refugees to find good jobs in the career fields that they are coming from. The cultural barriers also complicate some processes for refugees such as the US healthcare system, which is drastically different from anything Ukrainians know (Atlanta-Journal Constitution). Lack of transportation is another hardship on the Ukrainian refugees, which provides further obstacles in finding good work (Fox News). Refugee assistance hotlines are unresponsive, so Ukrainians often find themselves needing to appear in government offices in person to have their social service application questions answered, which without cars is costly. One refugee found herself spending $1,000 in one month on taxi fares (Atlanta-Journal Constitution).

Most of the refugees coming from Ukraine are women and children, so childcare is another expense and responsibility that many of these migrants have to deal with.

It is hard for these refugees to plan in advance, because they do not know what their future looks like beyond the 2 years. They live day by day. They worry that they may be forced to return to their home country, to a land that is uninhabitable.

Lastly, the unseen struggles that refugees must endure are the mental hardships and trauma that comes with living through a war and being forcefully evacuated away from their home and loved ones. Most of the women refugees have left their men at home to fight the war, and there is lack of support system here in America. Many refugees try their best, leaning on local communities of Ukrainian Americans established here from prior immigrations (LA Times).

While it is admirable what the US government has managed to do so far for the Ukrainian people, there is work to be done in a flawed system.

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