War in Ukraine sends refugees and economic disruptions to Pinal County

Jeff Kronenfeld

High Commissioner Filippo Grandi visits the destroyed home of Liudmyla, 65, in Makariv in the Bucha district of Kyiv Oblast(Andrew McConnell/UNHCR)

By Jeff Kronenfeld / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

(Pinal County, AZ) No place is immune to the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including Pinal County.

While disrupted supply chains and volatile markets impact farmers and many others, Pinal County residents with relatives near the conflict zone, including recent Ukrainian refugees, bear the brunt of the war’s human cost.

The UN Refugee Agency reports that more than 9.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion began, nearly a quarter of the country’s prewar population. As of June 24, more than 71,000 Ukrainians moved to the U.S, according to Department of Homeland Security data shared by NBC.

Arizona has welcomed 92 Ukrainians since October 2021, according to Kevin Groman, interim executive director of The Welcome to America Project. If that number seems small, consider the state also took in 870 Afghans, 1280 Haitian/Cuban Entrants, and 700 other refugees over that same period.

However, more are likely to follow since President Biden has authorized 100,000 Ukrainians to come to the U.S. through his Uniting for Ukraine program.

“We can anticipate that we will be seeing a significant number of Ukrainian refugees coming through, and Pinal County has already received a good number of Ukrainians,” Groman said. “We're anticipating up to six to seven thousand total refugees in the next two years here in Arizona.”

Welcoming new arrivals

Groman likened the plight of Ukrainian refugees to that of Afghanis displaced by the collapse of the U.S.-supported government in that country late last year. In both cases, large numbers fled over a short period.

The Welcome to America Project and other groups serving refugees provide significant assistance, but Groman considers it an investment that quickly pays dividends to host communities. Partly this is because, also like the Afghanis, many dislocated Ukrainians are doctors, engineers, or members of other skilled professions.

“They are some of the best and brightest from these countries, both from Afghanistan and from Ukraine,” Groman explained. “When you have that type of talent coming into your state, it's increasing the economic impact they can have because these individuals certainly add significant value to the economy.”

A wartime economy

So far, The Welcome to America Project has not felt much impact from the supply chain issues and commodity price fluctuations aggravated by the war in Ukraine. Unfortunately, businesses, farms, and others across Pinal County haven't been so lucky.

Gas prices rose to historic heights earlier in the year before easing more recently. Despite this, Arizona's average price per gallon has increased by $1.50 over this time last year, according to AAA.

Lucid Motors, an electric car manufacturer with a factory in Casa Grande, announced in a press release earlier this year that the company had reduced production targets from 20,000 vehicles to 14,000 or fewer due to supply chain issues.

One of Pinal County’s major crops, cotton, has seen its price yoyo. On the NASDAQ, cotton started January at around $1.13. It climbed to more than $1.54 in May before falling off a cliff in June.

Even farmers with crops holding or growing their value had to contend with rising fertilizer and other input costs, a trend the invasion aggravated.

Farmdoc Daily reported that the price per ton of anhydrous ammonia, a nitrogen fertilizer, more than doubled from $726 last July to $1,469 on July 14 of this year. Natural gas is one of the fertilizer’s main ingredients. Russia is a major natural gas producer and recently reduced exports to Europe, driving prices up.

St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery.(Jeff Kronenfeld)

The Eastern Orthodox world at war

The Russian invasion of Ukraine pit two countries with large Eastern Orthodox populations against each other, causing casualties on both sides and a rift in the church.

Still, the monks of St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence like Fr. Cyril try to stay out of politics. He doesn’t avoid the news because he doesn't care, but rather to steer clear of any possible distractions from his primary job as a monk: to pray.

“We pray for everybody, whether or not there's a war,” Fr. Cyril explained. “We have lots of Ukrainian Orthodox friends that come here, and lots of Russian Orthodox friends that come here. Both peoples on both sides are devastated. Both say, ‘Please pray for my relatives. They're dying, they're hurt, or their house was destroyed.”

Even in Pinal County, thousands of miles from the frontlines in Ukraine, the echoes of war ring out.

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Jeff is an award-winning freelance journalist covering news, business, science and the arts. His work has been published in Discover Magazine, Vice, the Phoenix New Times and other outlets.

Tempe, AZ

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