Austinites Open Their Homes to Help Ukrainian Refugees
By Madeline Salinas
Reporting Texas TV
AUSTIN, Texas — When Kseniia Mykhailova returned home from a February vacation, she was greeted with blue and yellow flags, posters, and flowers on her doorstep.
It was a reminder to the native Ukrainian that she and her family weren’t alone.
“It definitely means a lot,” Mykhailova said. “I feel a lot of support from our American friends.”
Millions of Ukrainians fled the country as the Russian invasion continues.
President Biden announced on March 24 that the U.S. expects at least 100,000 refugees from Ukraine. According to Refugee Services of Texas, 12,000 of those refugees will settle in Texas.
The majority of the refugees are making their way to the United States through Mexican border cities like Tijuana. There is now a pileup at the border as a result of the large influx of Ukrainians.
The Trump administration’s management of the U.S. refugee program and the COVID-19 pandemic slowed requests for visas.
“People want to come. People on the other side want to give a place to live, but there’s a gap in between,” Mykhailova said.
Most Ukrainians who make it past the border are doing so through humanitarian parole, which allows refugees to live and work in the U.S. for a year without a visa.
A challenge facing refugees who enter the country is finding places to stay. A website started by two Harvard students, Ukraine Take Shelter, is helping Ukrainians with that. It allows anyone in the U.S. to list rooms in their homes for Ukrainians.
Bentley Perez, who is Mykhailova’s neighbor, came across the website and didn’t need to think twice. She lived abroad in Korea and Japan, and remembers the love and support that people showed her as a foreigner. That motivated her to open her home.
Ukrainian flags line the yards on Perez and Mykhailova’s street. Perez bought them in solidarity with Ukraine and to show support for her neighbor and friend.
“I feel like it’s a big part of my life that I wanna pay back and help anyone that comes into my country,” Perez said. “Offering a bedroom in my home is easy. It’s something I can do, and I’m happy to do it.”