Here’s how Forsyth County residents can help Ukrainian refugees

Kimberly Bond

(FORSYTH COUNTY, GA) Few people can understand what families fleeing Ukraine are going through better than Vasily Lantukh.

Thirty-two years ago, Vasily fled from Ukraine, which was still then part of the Soviet Union, to the United States. All he could bring with him was his family—four children and his pregnant wife, Marya.

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A burnt house on May 26, 2022 in Novoselivka, Ukraine. This area northeast of Kyiv was targeted by Russians early in the invasion.(Photo/Getty Images)

Now Pastor Vasily, as he is known, is the proud father of six children, all of whom graduated from Georgia universities. He has spent over thirty years in ministry and is the head pastor at New Life Church, a thriving community in Suwanee with more than 20 nationalities represented in its membership. In addition, he serves as the head of school at Friendship Christian School, an international school located on the same property.

Pastor Vasily’s story is one of success. He and his family overcame tremendous hardships to create new lives full of opportunity right here in Georgia. Now, Pastor Vasily and his church are helping Ukrainian refugees do the same.

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Pastor Vasily fled to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union.(Photo/Friendship Christian School)

The crisis in Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February of this year and recently entered its third month. The brutality of Russian tactics shocked the world. Many Western nations including the United States have condemned the war, issuing sanctions and sending aid and weapons to Ukraine.

Many expected that Ukraine would quickly fall to its powerful neighbor, but determined Ukrainians refused to give in. Buoyed by international support, Ukrainian resistance fighters have scored some wins and forced Russia to change its plans. But the prolonged conflict has had a devastating impact on everyday life. Transportation, medical care, education, infrastructure, and the supply chain have all been dramatically affected. For many Ukrainians, the only choice remaining is to seek safety in another country.

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Damaged buildings like this one in the Kiev region of Ukraine will have to be remodeled or destroyed, leaving families without homes.(Photo/Getty Images)

Ukrainians in the U.S.

Though many Ukrainians have fled to other European countries, especially Poland, some have chosen to look for shelter in the United States. Many Ukrainians who arrived in the U.S. early in the conflict were already away from their home country for work or travel when the invasion began - and now they can’t go back. Others were able to flee from Ukraine and crossed into the U.S. from Mexico. Some of these Ukrainians will be granted refugee status and allowed to stay in the U.S.

Recently, however, the Biden administration removed this route of entry and announced a new plan. The administration created the program to streamline the admissions process and to discourage people fleeing Ukraine from trying to enter the U.S. through the southern border through Mexico. The plan, called Uniting for Ukraine, allows U.S. citizens, businesses, or groups to sponsor Ukrainians to come to the U.S. Sponsors will have to show that they can provide financial support and must pass a background check (to prevent exploitation or abuse). The program will admit up to 100,000 Ukrainians to the U.S.

To be eligible for the program, Ukrainians must have been residents in Ukraine as of February 11, 2022, have a sponsor in the United States, complete vaccinations and other public health requirements, and pass other various screenings, including a security check. If approved through this process, Ukrainians will be authorized to travel to the U.S. where they will be considered for parole—not refugee status—for a period of up to two years, which will be granted on a case-by-case basis. Once granted parolee status, these Ukrainians will be eligible for work authorization.

This process involves a lot of red tape and it will likely take a long time to process each case. Even if granted a parolee status and work authorization, many of these individuals don't speak English. Families with children will also struggle with childcare and public school eligibility. In the meantime, the burdens on sponsors will be high.

“It is stress on top of stress,” says Pastor Vasily, for families who have already gone through a nightmare leaving their war-torn country.

Helping Ukrainians in Forsyth County

Pastor Vasily and New Life Church, which has a large immigrant population from Ukraine and nearby countries already, are trying to ease the transition for as many Ukrainian families settling in the Forsyth County area as possible. Being part of a community where many people come from a Ukrainian or Russian background can help families uprooted from their homes find a place they can feel comfortable. There are already around 20 families resettling in the Forsyth County area, and Pastor Vasily estimates that there may be as many as 100 families by the end of the year if they can find sponsors.

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New Life Church in Suwanee is helping refugees with donations and other support.(Photo/Kimberly Bond)

Many families from New Life Church, including Pastor Vasily’s, have opened their homes to refugees and those entering through the new program. There is a "donation bus" in the church parking lot where local residents can bring food, clothing, toys, and other supplies. Ukrainians who are unable to work yet can volunteer at the church or serve in the food and clothing ministries.

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The "Donation Bus" at New Life Church.(Photo/Kimberly Bond)

“There is a huge need for driveable cars,” says Pastor Vasily. Many of the Ukrainians know how to drive, and being able to run their errands and get out on their own eases the burden on sponsors.

Another critical need is medical and dental care. Many of the Ukrainians have no insurance and won’t be eligible for federal programs like Medicaid and Medicare. If doctors, dentists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals could donate their time and skills, says Pastor Vasily, it would greatly help the community.

Friendship Christian School, the international school associated with New Life Church, hopes to be able to offer Ukrainian children a chance to attend classes in their language. Forsyth County residents can donate to the school’s scholarship fund to help give these children a chance to attend the school. Alternatively, donors can give to Christian International Counseling & Ministries (CICM), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Suwanee that assists Friendship Christian School with receiving funds through the Georgia Private Schools Tax Credit program.

Finally, Forsyth County residents can also donate financially to New Life’s fundraiser through the online donation platform GoFundMe. An anonymous donor has offered a $50,000 matching grant to help them meet their challenge. Donations made through June 3 will be eligible for the matching grant.

Do you know of other opportunities to support refugees in our community? Comment below or email kbondwriter@gmail.com to let us know.

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I'm a writer, editor, and journalist with a background in law and science. I love writing about interesting local places and events in Forsyth County, especially new businesses or family-friendly experiences.

Cumming, GA
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