The Chibovas are from Kherson, one of the most devastated and war-torn areas of Ukraine, in the east along a corridor established to allow Russian troops and supplies to flow freely from Russia all the way to Crimea (another territory stolen from Ukraine, in 2014). In June this year, Russia destroyed the civilian Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant dam in Kherson, partially or fully flooding at least 40 villages and cities, disrupting agriculture (including livestock) and fisheries throughout the area, and putting the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant downstream at even more risk. (The United Nations immediately decried this act, and one delegate called it “a new low in [Russia’s] conduct of this brutal war.”) Read More...
As with our ancestors who arrived in Minnesota from various parts of the world, so each Ukrainian refugee family has its own story of how they got to be here.
Before the most recent Feb. 24, 2022, invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, starting this most recent war on its neighbor, Tetiana’s husband Sergey signed up to serve as a contract officer in the defense of Ukraine, serving in the hotly contested eastern region of Ukraine. He continued to serve after the full-on war began. Not long into the war, Sergey called Tetiana and told her that bad things will come soon to Kherson; please take the girls and get out soon. And she did. On May 5, 2022, the family fled to Kyiv, to the northwest of Kherson.
They were in Kyiv for about a month. It was during that time that Tetiana received word that Sergey and his entire tank unit were missing in action. That was a year and a half ago, and today she is told that there is now 100% chance there were no survivors, although there may never be documentation of his death, nor remains found that can be -buried. He is one of thousands who have given their lives defending their homeland, and their families. It’s been hard for Tetiana to explain to her daughters what happened to him, even as they continue to flee their home.
From Kyiv, the family traveled to Poland where more than 15 million Ukrainians have also fled. After three months, they went to Norway where they spent nearly a year. An extremely difficult language, foods they found unpleasant, and an inability to work without knowing the language fluently made Norway less than ideal for the Chibova family. The girls did spend one school year in Norwegian schools, with difficulty.
Enter Dr. Karina Burger, a veterinarian in Cokato. She and her husband have sponsored and hosted families themselves, and she continues to help other families, as she is able, in their process to come to the United States through the Uniting for Ukraine humanitarian aid program administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The program is designed to reunite families that have been torn asunder by war, often impossible for refugee families to do on their own. Their website explains: “Uniting for Ukraine provides a pathway for Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family members who are outside the United States to come to the United States and stay temporarily in a two-year period of parole. Ukrainians participating in Uniting for Ukraine must have a supporter in the United States.”
Keith Markwardt, CEO of Harvest Bank in Kimball, stepped forward as sponsor for the Chibova family. And Susan Harding in Kimball agreed to let them live with her indefinitely, until they can get established here.
Tetiana’s father Oleksii had arrived in Minnesota about five months ago, and he lives in Farmington. He does not have the space or resources to host or sponsor them, so he enlisted Dr. Burger’s help. He was at the airport to greet them, and all four of this family were guests of Keith and Nancy Markwardt for a long weekend after they first arrived. Then Tetiana and her daughters came to live at Harding’s home.
It has been a busy month since the Chibovas’ arrival. Tetiana has applied for and received a Social Security card; she was authorized to work immediately upon arrival in the U.S. She took and passed her Minnesota driving exam and received her permit; now she just needs to practice driving for her behind-the-wheel test. And the girls were registered and have begun school. Olena (or Lena) is in first grade, and Sofiia is in sixth grade at the high school building. The girls have made friends, and they like school – especially the school lunches.
They are all settling into a comfortable family routine. This week, Tetiana will start her job.
“It’s been wonderful,” says Harding about her new house guests. “I’m so pleased. Having children in the house [again] is amazing.”
In Ukraine, before the war, Tetiana was a cook, working in cafés and pizza joints. She hopes at some point to get back to working as a cook, and maybe some day to have her own café.
Another family will arrive later this month. They come from Odesa, the port city on the Black Sea that Russia has been trying to destroy for the past two months. They have sponsors, and a place to live. But there are other families in the pipeline, waiting for either a sponsor or housing, or sometimes both, before they can receive their invitation from the U.S. State Department. They will then have 90 days to obtain their own tickets and make their way here. Most are leaving their homeland – or an intermediary country – with nothing; they’ve lost everything in the war, or sold whatever they had to buy their ticket to the U.S. Many of them arrive here with a suitcase or two and nothing more. They often need furnishings and housewares to fill an apartment or home they will rent. They may need winter clothing in a few weeks. They will need a functioning car so they can get to their jobs. And they may need a bit of cash to get them through their first few months until they get settled into jobs and can pay their rent, utility bills, and more on their own.
Dr. Burger is especially moved to help, to the extent that she can. “It’s been a special joy for me to put people back with the ones that they love, when the war has separated them,” she says. “I think, as a veterinarian, I approach the world through this perspective of trying to heal things. There is so much that I cannot heal from this war, but this piece, I can do. I hope that the power of being reunited with those that you love has a lasting healing effect on everyone whose lives are touched. And I also hope that people touched by this will look for ways to pay it forward and help someone else in need in some future time.”
You can help!
Here’s where you come in: if you can provide any of these needed items, please let us know. There are a few of us coordinating what is needed, and how we can provide it. Any contribution toward their stays here is appreciated.
If you’re really moved to help, and you have the means, we are always looking for sponsors and housing for future families to be able to come.
Sponsorship involves agreeing to be a financial safety net during their two-year stay under the United for Ukraine program. You may need to help them find a job, get kids registered for school, drive them to various government appointments during the first few weeks, and fill in with unmet needs. Dr. Burger supports sponsors and refugees through the process, as she is able. Both sponsors and refugee families undergo background checks and are vetted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Housing means a clean and appropriate place to live for a family. Sometimes they arrive with their beloved pets. Some may smoke, but rarely indoors. In some circumstances, families may be eligible for short-term financial assistance for -housing. Temporary, emergency housing for at least a month is needed at times, but the goal is to find -longer-term housing for all. It is expected that each family is able to pay rent and utilities on their own.
There are other ways to help Ukrainian refugee families in our area. Furniture, linens, dishes, and other items are frequently needed to help them set up house here. Each family will need a reliable car, and they will need rides in the meantime – to job interviews, to work. Some, like Tetiana, will need to practice driving (with a licensed driver), and others will need to be taught to drive – many Europeans (including Ukrainians) do not need to drive because public transportation is so good there. And cash donations can be helpful from time to time as each family gets established here.
Although their abilities to speak and understand English vary, they are adept at using their phones to aid in translation and conversation. So don’t let a language barrier prevent you from befriending them.
Finally, prayers are always helpful: for the refugee families as they navigate yet another country, language, and lifestyle; and for protection for Ukraine and all those who are still there fighting for their freedom and, often times, their very lives.
With so much devastation and heartache half-way around the world, it’s hard to feel that one individual can make a difference. But you can, and it can feel wonderful to be any part of the solution.
To learn more, or offer help, please email me firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you, and Slava Ukraiini!