Twelve Ukrainian refugees recently arrived at Anchorage International Airport. Ted Stevens. They were greeted by volunteers with flowers, balloons, chocolate and Alaskan tea, as well as freshly baked bread with salt – a Ukrainian tradition of welcoming guests. About 20 more refugees are expected to arrive soon. Why Ukrainians are so welcome in Alaska and how refugees live there, told ADN.
According to its director Zorya Opanasevich, the Ukraine Aid Program operates with the arrival of the New Chance Church in Anchorage. Since March, she has been working to bring war-affected Ukrainians to Alaska, raising funds to buy tickets and help refugees integrate when they arrive.
For more information about the program, follow the link.
“The moment when families are reunited and tears of joy are worth it,” said Opanasevich. — The children came with balloons, which gave them to visiting people. It turned out just a beautiful holiday: people came out, and their families ran to them. There were a lot of tears, just happy tears, a lot of hugs and kisses.”
Initially, the Ukraine Assistance Program planned to hire three charters and carry about 180 people on each, but volunteers adjusted the plan after the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) launched the new Unity for Ukraine program, also known as U4U. Under this program, volunteers move on a case-by-case basis using commercial flights.
“We expect to help hundreds of Ukrainians; our goal is 600 and even more if possible,” Zori said, noting that the actual numbers depend on who gets permission to travel from USCIS.
According to Opanasevich, volunteers plan to attract as many people as possible in the summer and autumn.
“We lost several people who were supposed to fly in, they died,” said Opanasevich, who is originally from Ukraine, upset. “It hurts and we cry every time we talk about it, but it makes us work harder. When the war started, we experienced for the first time the emotions of shock, disbelief, anger, sadness – all emotions. And then we decided we couldn't just sit and cry.”
In total, one more person arrived on this flight under the Ukraine Assistance Program, and about 50 Ukrainian refugees arrived in Alaska on tourist visas, Opanasevich said. , there were two children aged 2 and 7 who received teddy bears, books and gifts.
Volunteers held a loaf on an embroidered towel to greet all arriving Ukrainians who could break off a piece of bread, dip it in salt and eat it. Melissa Jones, manager of the North Star Bakery, baked bread to honor the long-standing Ukrainian tradition of welcoming guests.
“When I baked bread, I prayed for every person who would eat it. I wanted Ukrainians to feel loved and desired after biting off a loaf, so that they could find solace,” Melissa Jones explained. – What they have to go through, even in the head does not fit. There's not much I can do, but if there's something I can do to make them feel loved, welcome, and part of our staff, then I want to do it.”
Volunteers are planning enable refugees to settle down and then help them complete work permit forms, apply for legal paperwork and enroll in English courses. About 20 more refugees will arrive this week in Fairbanks and Anchorage, Opanasevich said. They will find homes in Delta Junction, Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Wasilla.