How 2 refugees fled Ukraine to join their family in Lansing

Posted at 1:24 PM, May 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-06 15:31:57-04

LANSING, Mich. — President Joe Biden announced earlier this year that the U.S. will accept up to 100,000 refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.

At least two have already arrived in Lansing. Nadiia and Volydymyr Kostiuk made their way here to join their daughter and her husband.

“In the beginning, we woke up and couldn’t understand what it was,” said Volydymyr Kostiuk, speaking in Russian.

“They said that they woke up at 4:30 a.m.,” said the couple's daughter Margaryta Stevens, who translated the interview. “Just hearing all the very loud noises (on the day of the invasion), they did not understand what it was. My dad actually got up he got ready went to work, but no one else showed up.”

“There was a bomb that was dropped right in front of their apartment building,” said Andrew Stevens, Margaryta's husband. “Thankfully, it didn't explode it was stuck in the ground.”

That moment was a turning point for the Kostiuks.

“It made them think that if it did explode, they would have been dead, like it was that big,” Margaryta said. “So, that was the time when they made a decision they had to leave and they had to evacuate themselves.”

Millions of Ukrainians have fled the country since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24. Now, the federal government launched the program “Uniting for Ukraine” to provide ways for Ukrainian refugees to come to the U.S.

“Although these Ukrainians are, by definition, refugees, because clearly they fled their home country, they won't necessarily be brought into the United States under the refugee category,” said Karen Phillippi, the director of New American Integration of the Office of Global Michigan.

Instead, Biden announced that they would use a wide range of immigration statuses to bring Ukrainians to the U.S., especially since the U.S. refugee program could take two years or longer.

“The federal government has long received Ukrainian refugees. The only issue is it takes a long time to go through that process.,” she said.

However, Uniting for Ukraine uses the immigration status humanitarian parole, a temporary program which requires Ukrainians who come to the U.S. to have a sponsor in the in the U.S. who agrees to financially support them during their stay. Which is how Nadiia and Volydymyr Kostiuk came.

The Kostiuks had lived in the northeastern city of Kharkiv. War wasn't something they were accustomed to.

“It was very scary, because they were afraid, they wouldn't be able to leave the city,” Margaryta said. “The city was sort of surrounded, there were some shootings, so even cars or civilians were shot.”

Margaryta and her husband are glad her parents are safe. They coordinated the entire trip to the U.S. Her parents passed through six other countries before crossing the Mexican border into Texas. Andrew joined them in Spain to support them through the remainder of the trip.

“Unfortunately, I don't know if they would have been able to make the journey without me or without someone who speaks English,” Andrew said.

They needed to take a flight to Columbia and then to Mexico due to regulations they had to follow because they were taking the family cat.

“They have a family cat, which they've had for over 15 years now. And it was very important for them to bring the cat. They had already taken it to Spain,” Andrew said.

Ukrainians in Michigan
Margaryta Stevens, and Nadiia and Volydymyr Kostiuk

They came only a couple of days before Uniting for Ukraine was announced, which is why they weren’t able to get approved and board a direct flight to the U.S. They had to go to the border to apply for asylum or humanitarian parole.

“That in itself was risky, because the U.S. government doesn't have to grant them asylum,” Andrew said. “The U.S. government doesn't have to give them humanitarian parole. They could deny them at the border.”

However, at the time, they did not see another option.

Margaryta is skeptical of the federal sponsorship program.

“I don't see how people who don't have relatives in the states could provide for themselves, I just don't see that," she said.

Her parents “are so traumatized, mentally, we really hope they're going to get some mental assistance.”

“My dad still has nightmares every single night about the war,” she said,

Olena Danylyuk, the vice president of the Ukrainian - American Senate Committee of Metropolitan Detroit and member of the Ukrainian – American Crisis Response Committe, said Michigan has the third largest Ukrainian American community in U.S.

“We have schools. We have churches. We have all facilities to support them as the Ukrainian community, but we would need some state capacities to host them and to train navigators who would be able to navigate those families and help them to settle and find a job.” she said.

They would like to work with Michigan businesses.

“If we would have a refugee and permission for them to work, we would like businesses to help hire those people, maybe temporarily,” Danylyuk said.

In the end, the Kostiuks hope the war in Ukraine eases so that they can go back home. Ultimately that’s the place they feel they belong.

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