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While Men Fight for Their Land in Ukraine, Their Families Try to Survive in a Foreign Country

Foreign Policy Brief #138 | By: Yelena Korshunov | June 16, 2022

Header photo taken from: The New York Times

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ARFA billboard on Times Square, New York.

All photos in this brief are provided by ARFA

Policy Summary

I’m speaking with a man who was on his way to fight for his country, Ukraine, that was invaded by Russia’s troops on February 24, 2022. He packed his bag in his Brooklyn house to cross the Atlantic Ocean, back to the land where he was born. He was almost done with packing when his close relative stepped in. “You can do much more for Ukraine if you stay in America. You can help those who arrive here from Ukraine with a hope to keep their children safe and alive,” she said. “Ultimately, someone should do that here. Someone who speaks their language and has a big heart like you.” This man’s name is Yan Yufit. 

I phoned him to speak about his mission. Yan is a founder of ARFA, which stands for American Revival Foundation Alliance. Since Ukrainian refugees started to arrive in the United States, he and his team are first responders to meet the needs of those – mostly women with children, and elderly people – whose lives were ruined by the war.

-When was your organization born? – I asked.

-We started four years ago in Ukraine, mostly helping Holocaust survivors and collecting information about those whose lives were taken then. We planned to open a Holocaust museum in Odessa. That time we were invited to the Babiy Yar anniversary in Kiev where we met with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, Israeli and German presidents, and with many other activists and politicians. But when Putin’s army attacked Ukraine spreading enormous violence over this land, we switched our endeavors to help Ukrainian refugees and those who dedicated their lives to protect Ukraine. We don’t really trust big organizations because they spend a significant part of donations to pay their employees, rent facilities, etc. Nobody knows what part of this money goes to those people who are in need of them. 

Conversely, we started our activity by spending our own money and attracting volunteers. Here are the names of people in my team who willingly dedicate their time and money: Irina Chmeleva, Yaroslav Litvinov, Natalie Knyazeva, Vadim Mednikov, Ilona Elias, and Tatiana Golyak. One of our friends, Svetlana Zelinskaya, who has a beauty salon, gave us a space on certain days and hours to collect and distribute supplies for refugees, e.g. clothes, kitchen appliances, toys, and many other things. Then we realized that refugees are in dramatic need of legal help, so we found a lawyer and a paralegal who joined the team to voluntarily support refugees with legal advice, filling out applications, and filing them.


The family got a new multi cooker!

We distributed food that was randomly donated, but recently we made an agreement with the Food Bank of New York, and last Saturday they delivered food that was distributed to many refugees and the other people in need. Our efforts have now started to attract politicians’ attention. Steven Simblevitz, NYS assemblyman of District 45, helped us to partner with KingsBay Y which provided us with a facility for food distribution on Saturdays. 

We are located in Brooklyn, New York, and about 2,000 refugees have already applied to us for different kinds of help. ARFA helps them to get medical insurance, open a bank account, and get a driver license. We have opened free English language classes that are voluntarily led by professional educators. We even have a children psychologist who helps kids who went through the horror of war and suffer from psychological trauma. Recently, the HRA representative came to us to consult people, and we expect him to do that soon on a weekly basis.


Food distribution

-You don’t spend much money on advertising ARFA, so where do you find volunteers?

-It’s mostly a word of mouth. Many people with diverse backgrounds and nationalities come to us offering their hands and time. Pediatrician Boris Ripa donated twenty boxes with baby meals. There are several businesses that donated twenty multi cookers and twelve boxes with new children’s clothes. At the Ukrainian event at Times Square we met a famous Ukrainian actor Vladimir Goryanskiy who will direct the Children’s School of Arts. Eight refugees created crafts that were sold at the Ukrainian festival on Staten Island. 

ARFA earned there more than $1,000 to spend for refugees’ needs. We bought and sent to the hospital in Kropyvnytskyi (a city in Ukraine) a 3D Printer that is unique for that area and will be used for making medical first aid supplies. We also sent supplies to the Ukrainian regiment in Mykolaiv, and we sent warm blankets to another regiment. We also bought free food for people in Kyiv and Kharkiv that was distributed by local volunteers.


Crafts for the festival

-I’m wondering what ARFA’s challenges are, if there are any?

-The biggest problem is that we do all these things with our own limited money, and we don’t have any financing except for private donations. Another big challenge is finding a facility where we could collect, store, and distribute things for refugees, provide them with legal help, and conduct classes for children and adults. 

A lot of refugees arrive in the US without having any money and basic necessities, like hygiene products. Our friend that offered us space in her beauty salon got in trouble with her landlord who couldn’t believe that we do so much work for so many people for free, without getting a profit. If we have financing, we could attract more professionals and offer more support to Ukrainians who drastically need it.


Yan Yiffit with a volunteer.

-Although refugees have multiple vital needs, which of them is a priority?

-The priority is housing and work. The biggest problem is that without work and good credit history they can’t rent a room or apartment. Some homeowners want them to pay for half a year ahead. But how can people who were forced to escape their homes under shelling have so much money? All they have is clothes on them and their terrified children.

-How long does it take to get a status that permits refugees to work in the US?

-It’s a very long process. Within four months since the war in Ukraine started and refugees ran to the US, none of these people who applied to us received a document that allows them to legally work. Our attorneys filed applications for many refugees more than three months ago, but they are still waiting and struggling to survive. They are in unbelievable poverty, many of them don’t even have money to ride a subway. They walk miles to get free food that we deliver, or to receive legal advice.

-It’s so hard even to imagine what these people are going through.

-There are so many stories that are terrifying. There is a female refugee in Brooklyn who worked as a police officer in Kyiv. Her parents live in occupied Kherson. Someone brought information about her police service to the Russian occupants’ headquarter in Kherson, and now they are treating her parents demanding that she must come back to Kherson and be prosecuted, otherwise they will be in real trouble. And there is no way for these poor people to escape occupied territory and save their lives.

There is another woman with three children (one of them is autistic) whose husband was killed the second day of the war. There are many other Ukrainian children here, in Brooklyn, whose dads fight in Ukraine against its occupants or have already lost their lives in the war.

Policy Analysis

Recently, after the war started, NYS governor Kathy Hochul stated  “On behalf of 20 million New Yorkers, I am here to say with resolve in my heart, that we stand against this tyranny, and condemn Putin’s unjust and inhumane violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine. And we will stand with Ukraine and its people now, and forever more. New York is with you. We will always be with you. The United States of America will be with you.” 

But beyond these pathetic words, there are thousands of Ukrainian refugees that don’t have a place to live in, and don’t have basic needs, like food and medical help. They can’t even obtain permission to work to be able to buy food for their kids.


There is a website with some resources created for “Ukrainian people” by New York State, offering translation in eleven languages, including Russian, but paradoxically none of these languages is Ukrainian. And in fact, sadly, after reaching out to these resources, refugees run into a wall of bureaucracy. 

 

As a result of this nonsense, we have many hardworking people who are not allowed by our slow bureaucratic machine to earn money for rent and for even simplest human living, while people like Yan Yufit and his ARFA team members who work hard on full-time jobs spend money from their own pockets, time after work, and endeavor to help these people.

Patriotic speeches don’t protect, feed or cure hungry, frightened kids, whereas giving their caregivers permission to work would make a big difference in their lives.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

Uniting for Ukraine.  https://www.uscis.gov/ukraine

Help Center ARFA: American Revival Foundation Alliance.

https://www.facebook.com/ARFAhelps/

NYS Stands with Ukraine: Resources for Ukrainians and how New Yorkers can help. https://www.ny.gov/new-york-state-stands-ukraine-resources-ukrainians-and-how-new-yorkers-can-help

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