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Ukrainians fleeing Russian invasion struggle to reunite with their families in the United States

(CBS)

Inna Kozyar feels guilty and helpless in the United States

Kozial, the mother of two 44-year-olds living in a town on the outskirts of Kyiv, was able to come to the United States with her daughters two days after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. Now, thousands of miles away in Pennsylvania, she has seen horrific wars devastating her hometown, killing thousands of civilians and expelling millions of refugees.

“I can’t sleep at night,” Kozial told CBS News, citing the recent bombing of a theater protecting women and children in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol. “I wake up in the middle of the night.”

In a sense, Kozyar and her daughter (Anya, 20, Sophia, 16) can be counted as lucky. Their US tourist visa was approved before the Russian invasion. They were able to flee their home to Poland. So they boarded a plane to the United States. Kozaia’s sister-in-law is currently welcoming them at her home in Lititz, Pennsylvania.

Elsewhere, Kozyar is struggling to help families escape Ukraine or leave other European countries where more than 3.6 million people have been evacuated by the Russian invasion in other Ukraine in the United States. I am in the same predicament as people and Ukrainian Americans.

Kozyar’s parents, both in their 80s, managed to escape to Poland. She wants them to join her in the United States, but she doesn’t have the visa needed to legally come to the United States. Due to the increasing backlog of applications at the US Consulate, this usually takes several months.

“They are alone in Poland and they are not young, so they also cry,” Kozyar said. “They want to be with their family.”

Kozyar’s older parents are now part of an unknown number of Ukrainians exiled by the Russian invasion, despite the fact that there is a direct family here who is willing and ready to welcome them. There is no legal route to get to the United States.

President Biden has expressed support for welcoming Ukrainian refugees and has approved millions of dollars in aid to those exiled in the war, but his administration wants to come here for Ukrainians. No specific plans have yet been announced to facilitate the process. Officials also said that the majority of Ukrainians will remain in Europe.

The State Department said the United States will only handle Ukrainian refugee cases that are “unprotected” in third countries. But even that process, which has become dysfunctional due to pandemics and the reduction of the Trump administration, usually takes years to complete for interviews, security screenings, health examinations, and other procedures.

So far in March, the United States has recognized 12 Ukrainians as refugees, according to government internal data shared with CBS News.

The United States can more quickly allow visa-free Ukrainians to enter the United States for humanitarian reasons through a process called parole. However, the US Citizens’ Immigration Service (USCIS) has set strict requirements for this process and is currently considering tens of thousands of parole requests from Afghanistan trying to escape the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Unlike refugee status, parole does not provide immigrants with permanent residence in the United States. Since February 23, the United States has received 168 humanitarian parole requests from Ukrainians, according to unpublished USCIS data obtained by CBS News. Some demands on children seeking treatment in the United States have already been ruled, said a person familiar with the matter.

Meredith Owen, Head of Policy and Advocacy for Church World Service, a resettlement group for refugees in the United States, said the United States should prioritize family unity in its efforts to support Ukrainians in refugees. rice field. Expanding the refugee program infrastructure, reducing application backlogs, and ordering White House staff to oversee these efforts will help Ukrainians and others escape war around the world. She said.

“In the last few years, the resettlement program in the United States has been underestimated and left behind. For many who are not familiar with how important this lifeline is, this current crisis is spectacular. It will be, “Owen told CBS News.

Kozyar’s sister-in-law, Sarah Kuzmenko, 38, said she noticed overwhelming support for helping Ukrainians in the local Pennsylvania community.

“It’s frustrating. We receive daily, weekly phone calls, emails, and text messages from people who want to help in different ways, in rooms, money, clothing, or in different ways,” Kuzmenko said. say. “And you can’t bring in Ukrainians we know. Some of them are even our extended family because they don’t have a valid visa.”

According to a 2019 government estimate, about 1 million Ukrainian people live in the United States, including an estimated 355,000 Ukrainian-born immigrants.

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, accelerated the treatment of Ukrainian refugees with his family in the United States on Wednesday, specially for refugee Ukrainians, including journalists and members of the LGBTQ community. Requested the administration to create a humanitarian parlor program.

“Providing shelter for Ukrainians fleeing war will be another powerful demonstration of the US commitment to Ukrainians in their fight for freedom in the face of Blinken’s illegal and unjust aggression. “Let’s do it,” Menendez said in a letter to Secretary of Homeland Alejandro Mallorcus and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created an 18-month Temporary Protection Status (TPS) program for an estimated 75,100 Ukrainian migrants staying in the United States as of March 1, legally. I made it possible to live and work in the United States. Without fear of the Department of Homeland Security.

Kozyar and her daughter arrived in the United States on February 26th and are therefore eligible for the TPS program. However, DHS has not yet opened a program for application. That is, the only status a family has is a tourist visa that does not allow them to work.

She is reassured that her daughters are safe in the United States, but Kozier is still worried about her family in Europe and her uncertain legal status here.

“In Ukraine, there are still bombs every day, not far from home. In fact, I don’t know if there is a home, but of course there is no home here and I can’t work,” she said.

Anya was studying at a Ukrainian university before Russia invaded, but she cannot continue studying in the United States on a tourist visa. She is also worried about her grandparents and father who remained in Ukraine with other men ordered to support the fight against the Russians.

“When I say goodbye to my dad and grandparents and I don’t know if I can meet them again, it’s just a terrible feeling,” Anya said. “That’s the worst.”

Sophia, the youngest daughter, told her Ukrainian friend that she was hesitant to come to the United States when she entered a local high school. Even though she turned 17 on Thursday, she feels her responsibility in Ukraine as she struggles to defend her right to exist in her home country.

“I think many Ukrainians who have left Ukraine feel that they are not in the right place. We need to protect the country, not leave it,” Sophia said.

But Sarah said Sophia and her family were where they should be, and she often reminded them that they were in the United States because of them.

“Ukraine has soldiers brave enough to protect the country, so they are building the future,” she said. “Putin’s goal is to eliminate all Ukrainians, but that doesn’t happen. We have future Ukrainians, and when Ukraine wins the war in safety, they can return and soldiers There is that future there for the sacrifice of. “

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Ukrainians fleeing Russian invasion struggle to reunite with their families in the United States

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