Donations sought as 300 Ukrainian refugees come to Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees will soon be calling Utah home, and a Salt Lake City organization is making sure they have a place to live and work when they reach the Beehive State.

Catholic Community Services is calling on the community for help as families filter in having fled the war.

In a Sandy apartment Wednesday afternoon, Anna, a young toddler, sat in between her parents, looking at the book “First 100 Words.”

“Cry,” mom Yana Mukhataieva said, reading the word under a picture with a little girl’s face crying. Anna began to rub her eyes, to mimic crying.

As she learns her first English words, she’s learning life in a new country.

Yana and her husband Bohdan Mukhataieva are still unpacking, with boxes in the corner. They recounted making the decision to leave their war-torn home in Ukraine. They watched bombings and missile strikes every day up until they fled to Poland. At times, they had no access to food and had to go without eating to make their resources stretch.

Walking outside was a gamble, and they explained that Russian soldiers would shoot people on the streets.

Bohdan explained that their apartment in Kharkiv wasn’t safe. They taped the windows to avoid glass shattering from the bombs and slept on the floor of their bathroom, away from the outer walls.

“We lived 10 days in bomb shelter,” Bohdan said.

“Yeah, we were sleeping in the underground parking because it was dangerous to sleep in our apartment,” Yana echoed.

The couple eventually left their apartment for Lviv, but life there was also dangerous.

“We decided that because we have a small kid, we need to leave,” Yana said.

The couple arrived in Utah from Ukraine with Anna and their pup, Cola, thanks to local lawyer Lorem Lambert who they met five years ago. They say Lambert taught at their University in Ukraine, and they stayed connected on Facebook. Yana reached out, and Loren was willing to sponsor them through the program Uniting for Ukraine.

The two, who were both attorneys in Kharkiv, are now starting from scratch. They won’t be able to practice law in Utah and must find new industries to work in. They also needed to find a place to live and had to buy all new clothes and furnishings.

The family moved into the Sandy apartment with help from Catholic Community Services of Utah.

CCS of Utah is currently doing the same for more than two dozen Ukrainians who have already arrived, that Director of Migration and Refugee Services Aden Batar explained are part of the 300 refugees sponsored by Utahns through Uniting for Ukraine.

“We provide case management, employment services, health services, education for their children, matching them with volunteers,” Batar said.

But in order to help the hundreds coming in, he said they need more volunteers, plus donations like furniture, household items, and electronics, including laptops. They’re also looking for employers willing to hire refugees, and for people willing to foster children who arrive without their families.

The goal is to help the refugees become self-sufficient in a short period of time, he said.

“We’re trying to rebuild their lives and provide them all the basics that they need so they can become part of our community,” he said.

Batar mentioned that CCS of Utah also helps refugees navigate long-term immigration status and employment authorization.

The Mukhataievas are thankful for that help as they wait on their work permits. Their hope is to stay in Utah for at least two years.

They’re also hoping to build a safer life for little Anna.

“It’s very hard to leave your home, but it will be better to stay here,” Yana said.

Click here to learn how to help CCS of Utah welcome in Ukrainian refugees, including how to donate and volunteer.

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Rolling the dice for citizenship: Refugees join SLC English program for citizenship application

SALT LAKE CITY — For many, this Independence Day is a reminder of their goal to gain full citizenship. There’s a small group that meets twice a week in Salt Lake County to help refugees and immigrants get closer to gaining their U.S. citizenship.

The English Skills Learning Center has designed a unique English class that sets students up for success in their citizenship application. The curriculum focuses on helping immigrants and refugees pass an oral interview and written test covering a range of topics including U.S. history, politics and government.

“There’s high stakes here,” said Kara Vail, the program coordinator at ESLC.

Passing the citizenship application motivates the students, said Vail. Their program has a 92 percent pass rate.

“Most of the students that already take the initiative to come to our classes and choose to participate, usually pass,” said Vail.

The ESCL program has around 25 students enrolled. The citizenship test is not cheap – it costs $700 and the application process takes about a year.

Vail said their program partners with the Catholic Community Services and can offer legal services and special waivers to decrease the fee.

The program itself receives around $200,000 to $250,000 in grant money from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, allowing them to provide the classes for free.

“This is probably the most prestigious grant for this type of education,” said Vail. “We’re very proud to be the only one in Utah that has this grant.”

Hedy Miller has been an instructor with ESLC for more than a decade and has watched the success of multiple students throughout her tenure.

“I think this is probably the most rewarding job that you could have,” said Miller.

Miller’s classes review the 100 questions required for the citizenship interview. In their applications, each student must answer: why do you want to be an American citizen?

“Many want to vote,” said Miller. “Some people want to bring family members and some people want a better job.”

For Hafeez Ahmad, becoming a citizen means he can bring his deaf son from Pakistan to the U.S.

“My son come here and I hug my son,” said Ahmad, through tears.

Habi Yusuf came to the U.S. six years ago from Somalia and learned what Utah had to offer her.

“I like the mountains,” said Yusuf.

In between her work schedule, Yusuf attends class twice a week for a session of 11 weeks.

“I believe in the Constitution,” said Yusuf. “I’d like to vote.”

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Ukrainian ballerina takes the stage in local music video benefiting refugees

SPRINGVILLE, Utah — Music is a language we all understand, and local artists, with the help of refugees, are sharing their talent in hopes of spreading a message of love.

The music video, a DJ Evans Media production, was released on World Refugee Day. It honors Utah’s newest residents and features nearly 50 refugees who have resettled in the Beehive State, including the Voronetska family.

Masha Voronetska, 13, and her family fled Kyiv, Ukraine, at the beginning of the war and made their way to Utah in March. The journey was a heartbreaking and unimaginable experience for the teenager.

“I’ve seen some things that I’ve only seen in horror movies before,” Masha said. “I was scared.”

Masha, who missed the comforts of home, looked for a way to connect with her new community through dance. She began ballet classes, and in June, was asked to perform in a local music video.

“I was so excited to participate,” she said. “All my life in Ukraine, I was going to ballet academy. All my friends are from ballet. Ballet, to me, is a form of art. All the movements are so beautiful and I can really express myself.”

In the video, Masha dawned a traditional Ukrainian flower headdress, along with ballet pointe shoes, as she danced on stage at the Rivoli Theater in Springville.

Local singers Yahosh Bonner and Halee Crowther also performed under images of refugee children painting peaceful, anti-war signs.

The video featured the song “Peace, Be Still,” written by Sharie Saunders Howell and produced by Jonathan Keith. Howell told KSL her goal was to shed light on the refugee community in Utah and to raise awareness for the nonprofitUtah Valley Refugees.

To date, the nonprofit has helped nearly 160 refugees resettle in the state.

The organization’s executive director hoped the video would spread awareness about how they help refugees integrate into new communities and would encourage more people to volunteer and donate to support their efforts.

“Music is the best channel of communicating,” said Leonard Bagalwa, executive director of Utah Valley Refugees. “Many of the refugees featured are children who have been through a lot. These children are innocent. Some of them are born in a refugee camp and they come here so they know nothing about politics or anything that happened in their home county. We just hope that people will join our effort to support them.”

To watch the entire music video, click here.

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Utah woman hoping to sponsor Ukrainian refugees, bring them to Beehive State

SALT LAKE CITY — The Ukrainian conflict brought Whitney Holocomb to Poland a few months ago, helping refugees resettle in their temporary shelters. Yet, as the months have continued on, these temporary shelters are becoming more permanent than Ukrainians had hoped for.

Holocomb met one Ukrainian family who has been living in Polish shelters for the past three months — their living conditions, though better than being out in the cold, are not an ideal, long-term solution.

Yevhen Zavoloka, nicknamed “Eugene,” brought his wife and kids, sister-in-law, and friend from Ukraine to live in the Polish shelters Holocomb volunteered at.

“Someone like Eugene was invaluable to us because he was one of the few people that spoke English,” Holocomb said.

Zavoloka and his family have been living in an office space for the past three weeks.

“In this shelter, we have 400 people on five floors,” Zavoloka said.

On each floor, 100 people are sharing three bathrooms.

The poor living conditions are one of the reasons why Holocomb wants to bring Zavoloka to Utah — but for Zavoloka, moving would be more than just switching up their temporary living situation.

“I want to create new life because my life is destroyed,” Zavoloka said.

The Holocomb’s have space in their home, which is why they’re hoping to sponsor Zavoloka’s team of 11 through the federal program “Uniting for Ukraine.”

“There’s a lot of questions,” Holocomb said. “You’re committing to financially support these people for two years.”

There’s no other refugee program like Uniting For Ukraine because it requires individual sponsorships rather than agency sponsorships. The lack of a formal agency also means Ukrainians aren’t connected with resettlement programs, which is where the Catholic Community Services has stepped in instead.

Aden Batar, director of Migration and Refugee Services at Catholic Community Services, has helped families with their basic needs upon arrival in the Beehive State. Batar also encouraged families looking to sponsor Ukrainians to reach out for assistance.

“They can walk in any time,” Batar said. “Our staff are trained to help them and to provide the services that they need.”

Around 30,000 Ukrainians have arrived through the Uniting For Ukraine program and Batar said they’ve already helped a few new families who relocated to Utah.

“We’re helping a family get their food stamp, Medicaid, Social Security, and we can connect them with our immigration attorney who’s going to help them with their immigration paperwork,” Batar said.

The immigration process looks different for these Ukrainians because of their temporary parole status.

Batar said Ukrainians coming over through the federal program are not considered refugees, but rather are here on a temporary status with the potential to gain citizenship.

“We provide a lot of people what they need with immigration, help unite with their families, get their legal status, get their citizenship, and so forth,” Batar said.

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Jill Biden: Resilience of Ukrainian refugees ‘inspires me’

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden said she is heading to Romania and Slovakia later this week to visit with Ukrainian families who fled for their lives after Russia invaded their country in hopes of sending the message, despite language barriers, “that their resilience inspires me.”

The White House announced late Sunday that the first lady will spend Mother’s Day meeting Ukrainian refugees, most of whom are women and children.

The May 8 meeting will take place in Slovakia. Biden is scheduled to depart Washington late Thursday on a five-day trip that will also take her to Romania. Both countries share borders with Ukraine, which has spent the past two months fighting off Russia’s military invasion. Romania and Slovakia also are NATO members.

She discussed the trip Monday while touring a costume exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, saying she would spend the U.S. holiday dedicated to honoring mothers with Ukrainian families who have been displaced by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war.

“As a mother myself, I can only imagine the grief families are feeling,” said Biden, a mother of three. “I know that we might not share a language, but I hope that I can convey, in ways so much greater than words, that their resilience inspires me, that they are not forgotten, and that all Americans stand with them still.”

The trip will mark Biden’s latest show of solidarity with Ukraine.

Nearly 5.5 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded its smaller neighbor on Feb. 24, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Many have resettled in neighboring countries or relocated elsewhere in Europe.

Throughout the trip, Biden will also meet with U.S. service members, U.S. Embassy personnel, humanitarian aid workers and educators, the White House said.

After arriving in Romania on Friday, she is scheduled to meet with U.S. service members at Mihail Kogalniceau Air Base, a U.S. military installation near the Black Sea.

The schedule then takes her to the Romanian capital of Bucharest on Saturday to meet with government officials, U.S. Embassy staff, humanitarian aid workers and educators who are helping teach displaced Ukrainian children. The first lady will travel to Slovakia to meet with staff at the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava, the capital.

On May 8, Biden will travel to Kosice and Vysne Nemecke in Slovakia to meet with refugees, humanitarian aid workers and local Slovakians who are supporting Ukrainian families that have sought refuge in Slovakia.

She plans to meet with members of Slovakia’s government on May 9 before returning to the United States.

President Joe Biden visited with Ukrainian refugees during a stop in Poland in March.

The trip will be the first lady’s second overseas to represent the United States by herself, following her journey to Tokyo last year for the opening of the delayed 2020 Olympic Games. The trip also will mark her latest gesture of solidarity with Ukraine.

Four days after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Biden appeared at a White House event wearing a face mask embroidered with a sunflower, Ukraine’s national flower.

She also invited Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, to sit with her during President Biden’s State of the Union address in March and had a sunflower sewn into the sleeve of the cobalt blue dress she wore for the occasion.

Jill Biden spoke Monday at the Met about fashion as a means of communication. She said she had the sunflower applique sewn onto the cuff of her dress because she knew the only thing that would be written about her for the president’s big speech was what she wore.

“And that night, sitting next to the Ukrainian ambassador, I knew that I was sending a message without saying a word, that Ukraine was in our hearts and that we stood with them.,” she said.

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Jill Biden to travel to Romania and Slovakia on mission to support Ukrainian refugees

D.C (CNN) — First lady Jill Biden will travel to Romania and Slovakia this week in a show of support for displaced Ukrainian families forced to flee in the wake of Russia’s invasion. Biden will also use the trip to meet with members of the United States military stationed overseas, as well as top-level government officials in both countries, according to a release from the East Wing.

The first lady will depart Washington for Romania on Thursday, stopping first at Mihail Kogalniceanu Airbase on Friday, where she will meet with service members before heading to the capital city of Bucharest on Saturday. In Bucharest, Biden will hold meetings with members of the Romanian government, as well as humanitarian aid workers. Romania has seen the largest influx of Ukrainian refugees as a result of the crisis (after Poland), with hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians crossing the border into the country since the war began three months ago, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Biden, a community college professor, will also spend time in Bucharest with educators who are helping teach displaced Ukrainian children and assist in their schooling as they adjust to their new environment.

On Saturday evening, Biden will travel to Bratislava, Slovakia, where she will meet with United States embassy staff before departing the following day for Kosice and Vysne Nemecke, Slovakia, to meet with Ukrainian refugees. Biden will also greet local Slovaks who have opened their homes to families from Ukraine seeking refuge. More than 350,000 Ukrainians have fled to Slovakia, according to UNHCR.

Biden wraps her trip on Monday, May 9, by meeting with members of the Slovak government before departing for the United States.

The trip will be the first lady’s second solo foreign trip; in July, she went to Japan to attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

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Ukraine war refugees top 5 million as assault intensifies

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — After spending weeks with no electricity or water in the basement of her family’s home in Ukraine, Viktoriya Savyichkina made a daring escape from the besieged city of Mariupol with her 9- and 14-year-old daughters.

Their dwelling for now is a huge convention center in Poland’s capital. Savyichkina said she saw a photo of the home in Mariupol destroyed. From a camp bed in a foreign country, the 40-year-old bookkeeper thinks about restarting her and her children’s lives from square one.

“I don’t even know where we are going, how it will turn out,” Savyichkina said. “I would like to go home, of course. Maybe here, I will enjoy it in Poland.”

With the war in Ukraine approaching eight weeks, more than 5 million people have fled the country since Russian troops invaded on Feb. 24, the U.N. refugee agency reported Wednesday. When the number reached 4 million on March 30, the exodus exceeded the worst-case predictions of the Geneva-based U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

The even bigger milestone in Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II was reached as Russia unleashed a full-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine that will disrupt and end more lives.

Ukraine had a pre-war population of 44 million, and UNHCR says the conflict has displaced more than 7 million people within Ukraine along with the 5.03 million who had left as of Wednesday. According to the agency, 13 million people are believed to be trapped in the war-affected areas of Ukraine.

“We’ve seen about a quarter of Ukraine’s population, more than 12 million people in total, ,,,have been forced to flee their homes, so this is a staggering amount of people,” UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo told The Associated Press.

More than half of the refugees, over 2.8 million, fled at least at first to Poland. They are eligible for national ID numbers that entitle them to work, to free health care, schooling and bonuses for families with children.

Although many of have stayed there, an unknown number have traveled on to other countries. Savyichkina said she is thinking about taking her daughters to Germany.

“We hope we can live there, send children to school, find work and start life from zero,” she said inside the vast premises of the Global EXPO Center in Warsaw, which is providing basic accommodations for about 800 refugees.

If “everything goes well, if the children like it first of all, then we will stay. If not…,” Savyichkina said.

Further south, Hungary has emerged as a major transit point for Ukrainian refugees. Out of more than 465,000 who arrived, some 16,400 have applied for protected status, meaning they want to stay. Many are members of the ethnic Hungarian minority in Ukraine.

Hungary’s government says it has provided around $8.7 million to several charitable organizations and is giving subsidies to companies that employ Ukrainians granted asylum.

In March, a non-governmental organization, Migration Aid, rented an entire five-story building in Budapest, a former workers’ hostel, to provide temporary accommodation for people escaping the war in Ukraine. It has helped some 4,000 refugees so far.

Tatiana Shulieva, 67, a retired epidemiologist who fled from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine and wants to travel on to Egypt, said the night she spent in the hostel was “like a fairytale” after having sheltered in a basement for weeks to escape constant shelling.

Neighboring Romania has received over 750,000 refugees from Ukraine. Oxana Cotus, who fled the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv with her four small children, initially decided to go to Denmark but ended up in Bucharest because she speaks Romanian and didn’t want to be far from Ukraine.

She praised the help she received from the International Red Cross in helping her relocate and get settled.

The European nations hosting refugees say they need international help to manage the challenge, especially now as Russia has intensified attacks in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

“If we have a second wave of refugees, then a real problem will come because we are at capacity. We cannot accept more,” Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski told The Associated Press.

About 300,000 waar refugees are in the city of some 1.8 million, most of them staying in private homes, Trzaskowski said. Warsaw residents expected to host refugees for a few months, but not indefinitely, he said.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was in Lviv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, visiting a refugee center made of mobile modules that the governments of Ukraine and Poland jointly built to house displaced individuals who do not want to leave Ukraine.

Organizations for refugees say the best help would be for the war to stop.

“Unfortunately, without an immediate end to the fighting, the unspeakable suffering and mass displacement that we are seeing will only get worse,” UNHCR’s Mantoo said.

Data from Poland show that some 738,000 people have crossed back into Ukraine during the war. Some of them shuttle back and forth to do shopping in Poland, while others return to Ukraine to check on relatives and property, electing to either stay or depart again depending on what they find.

More than half of the refugees from Ukraine are children, according to UNHCR. Thousands of civilians, including children, have been killed or wounded in shelling and air strikes.

Mantoo, called the “outpouring of support and the generosity” shown to arriving Ukrainian refugees has been “remarkable.”

“But what is important is that it is sustained and that it is channelled across to ensure that refugees are enabled to receive that support while the fighting continues, while they are unable to return home,” she said.


Amer Cohadzic in Sarajevo, Justin Spike in Budapest and Nicolae Dumitrache in Bucharest contributed to this report.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at and of migration issues at

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Utah men bring supplies to Poland, help start daycare for Ukrainian refugees

Two Utah men are sharing their experience helping Ukrainian women and children refugees fleeing into Poland.

Not only did they bring supplies and donations from Utah, but they also happened upon unique opportunities to help—and that work continues even after arriving back home.

Jared Turner and Josh Adams said they began texting back and forth when the war started in February, wondering how they could help.

The two longtime friends began to research, and decided they wanted to volunteer for on-the-ground work. Turner and Adams booked plane tickets to Poland, and then came up with a plan.

“We started gathering supplies, networking, and things like that,” Adams said. “But we made the decision to go kind of spur-of-the-moment, and then we caught up to the, ‘This is what they want, this is what they need,’” Adams recounted.

The two originally met each other 25 years ago as mission companions in Venezuela for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Adams and Turner began to form another kind of mission trip as they teamed up again—this time, to serve people escaping their home country with nothing but suitcases and clothes on their backs.

As they networked with resources in Poland, Adams and Turner also began to fundraise at their workplaces. Turner explained that Amare Global, where he is CEO, collected donations.

Adams is the Orem City Police Department Chief. He indicated that officers and their families pooled together donations, and also wanted to make sure Adams had something uplifting to bring to the Ukrainian people.

Kids and staff members made cards filled with well wishes for Adams to hand out, he explained.

Next came buying supplies to bring to Poland. Turner said that Scheel’s gave them a discount, and with the donations, they purchased medical and emergency supplies like emergency blankets, LifeStraws, and hammocks.

They described how they each filled three suitcases to the brim and flew out.

For the next eight days, they focused their efforts on helping at the Poland-Ukraine border, as well as at train stations.

“We’d go to a train station, we’d ask what the needs were, help where we could,” Turner said. “[We’d] give out some of these supplies, cash, the supplies we brought from Utah.”

They each talked about meeting resilient, courageous women and children who had to leave the men behind and start over.

Turner said he’d see kids in the train station sitting around with their mothers and grandmothers, knowing they didn’t know where they were going.

For Adams, he said many of the women didn’t want cash donations—they wanted to focus on finding a job.

Their fighting spirit, he said, is what left a lasting impression on him.

“Just this attitude of, they’re a very strong, independent, wonderful people,” Adams shared. “I was so encouraged by their attitude that, here they are having to leave their homeland, their homes, and everything else– and they’re like, ‘I’m looking for work. I’m looking for independence. I’m looking to continue on.’”

The duo happened to meet a Ukrainian woman who owned a business in Ukraine that she left behind which sold children’s items.

This woman, they explained, wanted to open a reception center and daycare for refugees in Warsaw so that the women would have childcare while they worked at their new jobs.

Adams and Turner described using their donations to help kickstart the center and acquire supplies like carriers, pacifiers, and formula.

“Now we’re already talking about, ‘Okay, well let’s start talking into May and June about how we can continue to support this, as long as there’s a need. How can we make this last?’” Adams said.

The work helping that daycare center, they indicated, will continue. Turner said he also supports World Central Kitchen, which was set up in Poland to provide food.

Amare Global, he added, started a round-up program where people buying products can round the price up and donate to organizations helping in Poland.

During their trip, they had the chance to visit Auschwitz, and recounted the somber experience while thinking of what was unfolding just two hours away.

It added a deeper tone and meaning to the humanitarian trip.

“Coming from the border to Auschwitz was almost overwhelming, emotionally, to think that those atrocities were happening just across the border– and that we hadn’t learned to be better as people,” Turner reflected.

While they brought much-needed supplies and help to Poland, the two brought back an even greater purpose and message for Utahns.

“We have to remember the suffering of the people and pay attention to it, not get numb to it,” Turner said, adding, “and continue advocating for refugees and for this conflict to end.”

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Utah man returns home after helping refugees flee to Poland

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man we told you about a couple weeks ago who traveled to Ukraine to help refugees cross the border is back home.

He shared what it was like to be among those facing an uncertain future.

Utah man raises money to transport refugees to safety

When Kevin Kunz boarded a flight to Warsaw, Poland, he was nervous.

“I didn’t know anybody over there and I was planning on winging it,” he said.

Once on the ground, he said miracles unfolded. He connected with volunteers at a refugee center.

One of the contacts he made sold him a van that allowed him to organize a convoy to drop off much-needed supplies.

“I was able to give more than 100 people cash,” Kunz said.

Kunz also picked up people.

The daily 20-hour trip to the Kyiv area was eye-opening.

“There was a great deal of sadness. I can’t even describe the sadness in their faces and voices.”

One couple asked Kevin to drive their 14-year-old son across the border while they stayed behind.

His parents were devastated. They were just sobbing, so sad to have their son leave, but they did that to protect him.

Kunz’s mission was dangerous, but worthwhile.

“Even though there was incoming rockets and devastation going, on I felt safe,” he said.

He also felt grateful for friends who donated $25,000 to a cause that taught him valuable lessons.

“The problems that we face as Americans, everyday citizens, pale in comparison to what they face,” Kunz said. “It gave me a greater appreciation for truly of how blessed we are.”

Kunz is now trying to raise money to buy body armor for the men fighting on the front lines. These civilians are not trained soldiers and desperately need this gear to defend their country.

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Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf visits with Ukrainian refugees in Poland

SALT LAKE CITY – Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints visited Ukrainian refugees during a visit to Poland last weekend.

“No one would have expected it. Not a war in the middle of Europe. We felt impressed if an apostle of the Lord comes to Europe, we need to go to Poland,” he said in a YouTube video of his visit. “And as we are here we are meeting with the Saints, the refugees from Ukraine, the mothers with their children, the older who had to leave because they were just bombed out and didn’t have a place to stay. And we’re with those that open their homes.”

Uchtdorf was a refugee himself during World War II.

“When I was four years old, the end of World War II was here, and we had to leave overnight,” he told the refugees. “Four children with my mother during war-torn areas from one part of Europe back to Germany. And I look into their eyes, I hope I was as hopeful, as positive as they are now as I was as a child. They have that message that Jesus Christ is with them.”

In a devotional held in Warsaw, Poland, he shared the light and hope of Christ with Church members.

He read from the New Testament, Romans 8 when the apostle Paul asked, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” And he answered that nothing can “separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife, Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf, pose for a photo with Ukrainian refugees and Church members outside a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse in Warsaw, Poland, on Sunday, April 10, 2022. (2022 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.)

The scripture spoke directly to the current refugee crisis.

“I can see how terrible it must be for you, but only you know how this, hopefully with our words and our prayers and also with the physical help we can offer as good as we can. You are a light to many nations. You are examples where people say ‘if they can do it we can do it,’ ” Uchtdorf said, getting emotional in the video.

The video ended as he encouraged the refugees to always believe in their faith. “I could feel the warmth, I could see that they trust God, I could see their love for each other. I love them and I cry with them. Also, my heart is full of joy and hope because I feel their strong faith that the safe harbor is the Savior.

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Jewish man shelters refugees to honor those who saved his own family from the Holocaust

(CNN) — Jan Gebert handed his apartment keys to the family he had just met. The Ukrainian mother wanted to pay. No, insisted Gebert, this is free.

It was days after Russia invaded Ukraine and one of the countless acts of kindness being shown to those fleeing danger and reaching safety in Poland. But for Gebert, 42, it was very, very personal.

“My family survived the war because someone helped them. They were refugees. That’s the reason why I’m here,” he said. “Thanks to that time, I can help other people.”

Gebert is descended from Holocaust survivors, some of the few who lived through Hitler’s obliteration of Warsaw’s Jewish community, which was then the largest in Europe.

To not help others now is unthinkable to him, so he and his girlfriend repeatedly invite refugees to stay until they have somewhere more permanent. As a third family arrives, Gebert and his girlfriend inflate a mattress for themselves and give the bedroom of their 400-square-foot Warsaw apartment to their new guests.

“It is not a big apartment,” he told them, apologetically, though the refugees replied it was just the shelter they needed from the war.

Gebert said he hoped the woman from Kyiv and her young son would finally be able to rest.

“Everything which I own and have in my life is in this apartment,” Gebert told CNN. “I don’t know if it’s faith or tradition. But I have to.”


History repeating, and changing


A few city blocks from Gebert’s home is the site of the Warsaw Ghetto, where Nazis first imprisoned Jews behind a high wall topped with barbed wire and then deported them to death camps during World War II.

Almost daily, he walks past the building where his great-grandmother, Zofia Poznańska, lived before the war. He has a few photographs of her — as a toddler with a large bow holding back curly tendrils from her wide eyes; as a girl; a teenager, and finally as a mother with her own daughter, who would become Gebert’s grandmother.

With the Nazis in charge of the city, Zofia became separated from her husband Julian Poznański and Krystyna, their daughter. Krystyna was evacuated to Siberia, Gebert said. His great-grandfather was taken in and hidden by non-Jews in Poland. But Zofia was falsely told both were dead and, overcome with grief and believing she had nothing to live for, she handed herself to the Nazis, according to Gebert family history.

That’s the last they ever heard of her for certain, Gebert said. They believe she was taken to the Nazis’ Treblinka death camp, northeast of Warsaw, where she died, though the exact details, like the fates of many of the more than six million Jews murdered in the war, were never unearthed by the generations who followed.

One great-grandparent was sheltered and survived. One had no help and died.

That reality was always in Gebert’s mind when the refugees from neighboring Ukraine started to flood into Poland.

“My entire family is involved in helping refugees,” Gebert explained. His father has given up his apartment. His sisters have ferried Ukrainians from the Polish border into Warsaw. “We are living because my ancestors were in hiding in Poland,” said Gebert.

And this time, unlike in the 1940s, there are many in Poland willing to help when the need is so clear, even though the country has resisted waves of recent exiles from Middle Eastern countries like Syria.


‘It’s our time’


Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich told CNN there was no comparison between the bravery of those who sheltered Jews against the Nazis and civilians supported by their government opening their doors to help Ukrainians. But it was still doing what needed to be done.

“We’re doing nothing compared to what these truly righteous people did during the war,” he said.

“It’s our time to do what we needed to have done for us 80 years ago … If we still have, somewhere in our hearts, a sadness that more people didn’t help, it needs then to push us to do more to help now, rather than becoming angry or turning inwards, it needs to motivate us to even do more.”

Most Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust left the country after the war. Today, there are fewer than 10,000 Jews in Poland, according to the World Jewish Congress. Schudrich said the Ukrainian refugee crisis hit home differently to members of the Jewish diaspora, including those of Polish origin, because of that history in addition to the Jewish tenet of helping those in need at any cost. He said global Jewish philanthropies, mainly in the US, have raised about $100 million to help Ukrainian refugees.

Even though he is surrounded by his family’s sometimes painful history, Gebert says he tries not to dwell on the past. But asked what life could have been like if more of his relatives had been saved from the Nazis, he sounds almost wistful.

“If someone had helped those, my ancestors, my cousins, during the Holocaust, I will have much greater family next to me,” he said.

“That would be wonderful — to have a great big family in Warsaw, a Jewish family which survived the war, that would be the most beautiful, beautiful thing.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Jan Gebert’s last name.

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Ukrainian refugees find route to US goes through Mexico

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) — Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees arriving daily have a message for family and friends in Europe: the fastest route to settle in the United States is booking a flight to Mexico.

A loose volunteer coalition, largely from Slavic churches in the western United States, is guiding hundreds of refugees daily from the airport in the Mexican border city of Tijuana to hotels, churches and shelters, where they wait two to four days for U.S officials to admit them on humanitarian parole. In less than two weeks, volunteers worked with U.S. and Mexican officials to build a remarkably efficient and expanding network to provide food, security, transportation, and shelter.

The volunteers, who wear blue and yellow badges to represent the Ukrainian flag but have no group name or leader, started a waiting list on notepads and later switched to a mobile app normally used to track church attendance. Ukrainians are told to report to a U.S. border crossing as their numbers approach, a system that organizers liken to waiting for a restaurant table.

“We feel so lucky, so blessed,” said Tatiana Bondarenko, who traveled through Moldova, Romania, Austria and Mexico before arriving Tuesday in San Diego with her husband and children, ages 8, 12, and 15. Her final destination was Sacramento, California, to live with her mother, who she hadn’t seen in 15 years.

Another Ukrainian family posed nearby for photos under a U.S. Customs and Border Protection sign at San Diego’s San Ysidro port of entry, the busiest crossing between the U.S. and Mexico. Volunteers under a blue canopy offered snacks while refugees waited for family to pick them up or for buses to take them to a nearby church.

At the Tijuana airport, weary travelers who enter Mexico as tourists in Mexico City or Cancun are directed to a makeshift lounge in the terminal with a sign in black marker that reads, “Only for Ukrainian Refugees.” It is the only place to register to enter the U.S.

About 200 to 300 Ukrainians were being admitted daily at the San Ysidro crossing this week, with hundreds more arriving in Tijuana, according to volunteers who manage the waiting list. There were 973 families or single adults waiting on Tuesday.

U.S officials told volunteers they aim to admit about 550 Ukrainians daily as processing moves to a nearby crossing that is temporarily closed to the public. CBP didn’t provide numbers in response to questions about operations and plans, saying only that it has expanded facilities in San Diego to deal with humanitarian cases.

“We realized we had a problem that the government wasn’t going to solve, so we solved it,” said Phil Metzger, pastor of Calvary Church in the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista, where about 75 members host Ukrainian families and another 100 refugees sleep on air mattresses and pews.

Metzger, whose pastoral work has taken him to Ukraine and Hungary, calls the operation “duct tape and glue” but refugees prefer it to overwhelmed European countries, where millions of Ukrainians have settled.

The Biden administration has said it will accept up to 100,000 Ukrainians but Mexico is the only route producing big numbers. Appointments at U.S. consulates in Europe are scarce, and refugee resettlement takes time.

The administration set a refugee resettlement cap of 125,000 in the 12-month period that ends Sept. 30 but accepted only 8,758 by March 31, including 704 Ukrainians. In the previous year, it capped refugee resettlement at 62,500 but took only 11,411, including 803 Ukrainians.

The administration paroled more than 76,000 Afghans through U.S. airports in response to the departure of American troops last year, but nothing similar is afoot for Ukrainians.

Oksana Dugnyk, 36, hesitated to leave her home in Bucha but acquiesced to her husband’s wishes before Russian troops invaded the town and left behind streets strewn with corpses. The couple worried about violence in Mexico with three young children but the robust presence of volunteers in Tijuana reassured them and a friend in Ohio agreed to host them.

“So far, so good,” Dugnyk said a day after arriving at a Tijuana gymnasium that the city government opened for about 400 Ukrainians to sleep on a basketball court. “We have food. We have a place to stay. We hope everything will be fine.”

Alerted by text message or social media, Ukrainians are summoned to a grassy hill and bus shelter near the border crossing hours before their numbers are called. The city government opened the bus shelter to protect Ukrainians from torrential rain.

Angelina Mykyta, a college student in Kyiv, acknowledged nerves as her number neared. She fled to Warsaw after the invasion but decided to take a chance on the United States because she wanted to settle with a pastor she knows in Kalispell, Montana.

“I think we’ll be OK,” she said while waiting to be escorted from the camp of hundreds of Ukrainians to their final stop in Mexico — a small area with a few dozen folding chairs within earshot of U.S. officials. Some refuse to drink at the final stop, fearing they will have to go to the bathroom and miss their turn.

Lulls end when CBP officers approach: “We need a family.” “Give me three more.” “Singles, we need singles.” A volunteer ensures orderly movement.

The arrival of Ukrainians comes as the Biden administration prepares for much larger numbers when pandemic-related asylum limits for all nationalities end May 23. Since March 2020, the U.S. has used Title 42 authority, named for a 1944 public health law, to suspend rights to seek asylum under U.S. law and international treaty.

Metzger, the Chula Vista pastor, said his church cannot long continue its 24-hour-a-day pace helping refugees, and suspects U.S. authorities will not adopt what volunteers have done.

“If you make something go smooth, then everybody’s going to come,” he said. “We’re making it so easy. Eventually I’m sure they’ll say, ‘No, we’re done.’”

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Syracuse couple to help Ukrainian refugees in Poland, hope to bring families to US

SYRACUSE, Utah — A Syracuse neighborhood is rallying around a couple who is flying out to Poland to help refugees on-the-ground.

Leyla Kazvin and her husband Ashim originally planned to fly to Poland for 10 days using their own personal savings and PTO. But when some of their neighbors found out what they were doing, they quickly jumped on board to support them.

Kazvin couldn’t just sit on the sidelines. She said she was feeling helpless watching TV news stories coming out of Europe, as millions of Ukrainians fled their country.

“When we saw the women and we saw the fear in their face, it felt like, okay, well at this point, I can’t bring up any excuse not to help. I have to do something about it,” Kazvin expressed.

She knows what that fear is like having lived in Azerbaijan in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Kazvin said she remembers the upheaval as a little girl, including an event in 1990 where the Russian army killed a number of protesters.

Watching the invasion of Ukraine, she indicated, gave her a flashback.

“I do remember that event because I was out on the street, I was playing around, I had a lot of friends and we saw it with our own eyes,” Kazvin remembered. “The feeling that you have when you have a tank that you see that’s coming toward you, you see a soldier, and you don’t what to make out of it.”

Kazvin and her husband decided to put their feelings of wanting to help into action by buying plane tickets to Poland.

She explained their plan is to rent two vans to drive refugees from the border to other areas. They are also ready to help bring refugees food and supplies, or provide hotel rooms for people to stay in.

Leyla speaks the language, and will be able to easily communicate to find out the needs of the people they come across.

“There will be no barriers,” Kazvin said. “So I think that my background, my language skills, and just the willingness to help, I think will do a great part in the whole effort.”

The couple’s neighbor, Danny Hellyar, heard about their plan and knew he wanted to help.

“To me, that was pretty inspiring,” he said.

He started to spread the word to other neighbors. Now, they’ve got a whole neighborhood behind them, donating to a GoFundMe* account to help the couple.

Kazvin expressed how their ultimate goal is to help a Ukrainian family migrate to Utah, and she’s prepared to sponsor them and take them in.

Hellyar has also offered to take in a family.

Depending on how much money they raise, the couple indicated they will work on bringing a couple of families to Utah.

They said they’ve spoken with missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helping in the refugee center in Poland, and plan to work with them to identify those families they can help.

“What Ashim and Leyla are doing, to me, is so personal and direct that it just has more meaning to me, more depth,” Hellyar said.

A depth, they hope, will make a difference in Poland — all the way from Utah.

*KSL-TV does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account, you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk.

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Across US, faith groups mobilize to aid Ukrainian refugees

LOS ANGELES (AP) — As U.S. refugee resettlement agencies and nonprofits nationwide gear up to help Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion and war that has raged for nearly six weeks, members of faith communities have been leading the charge to welcome the displaced.

In Southern California, pastors and lay individuals are stationing themselves at the Mexico border waving Ukrainian flags and offering food, water and prayer. Around the country, other religious groups are getting ready to provide longer-term support for refugees who will have to find housing, work, health care and schooling.

Aaron Szloboda, an assistant pastor at the Christian church Calvary San Diego, recently spent 50 hours straight at the Mexican border handing out food and water to Ukrainians lined up to enter the United States.

Just 10 minutes from the frontier, Calvary San Diego has become something of a hub for newly arrived refugees, a place where they can recuperate after a harrowing journey and plan their next steps.

On Friday its walls were lined with snacks, beverages, dolls and stuffed animals as families arrived clutching duffel bags, suitcases and the hands of small children. They were welcomed inside to rest, eat a meal and check their phones. Volunteers helped them navigate their immediate individual needs: information on flights to New York; how to change euros to dollars; a ride for a friend who had just walked across the border.

Szloboda, whose Hungarian Jewish grandfather survived the Holocaust and lost family members to Nazi genocide, believes he is being called to serve those in dire need: “They’re exhausted physically and mentally.”

The U.S. has agreed to accept up to 100,000 refugees from Ukraine, which has experienced a flight of more than 4 million people since late February. The Biden administration is also expected to end pandemic-related asylum limits at the U.S.-Mexico border on May 23, caps that have drawn criticism from immigration advocates.

But even before such refugee resettlements begin, faith-based groups have already been helping Ukrainians who have made their way to the United States. Some arrived directly on travel visas. Others traveled to Mexico and then to the U.S. border to claim asylum, enabling them to stay in the U.S. while their cases are processed.

Refugee resettlement agencies can use all the help they can get to accommodate the influx. Deep cuts during the Trump administration led them to slash staffing and programming, and they have already been scrambling to help tens of thousands of Afghans seeking asylum after fleeing last year’s Taliban takeover.

“We’ve started dealing with these crises before there has been a chance to rebuild that infrastructure,” said Stephanie Nawyn, associate professor of sociology at Michigan State University who focuses on refugee issues.

“Refugees have a lot of needs — homes, jobs, English classes, financial assistance, schools and translators who will help them navigate all of that. That’s too much even for a large organization,” Nawyn said. “While getting more people of faith to help is great, not having enough resources or case managers is still going to be a problem.”

Swiftly providing those kinds of protections and benefits to Ukrainian arrivals is a religious imperative, said Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of the Jewish refugee agency HIAS, one of nine groups that contract with the U.S. State Department on resettlement.

Jewish people are called by their faith to care for and help people in need, Hetfield said, noting that “welcoming the stranger” is mentioned 36 times in the Torah, more often than any other commandment.

“Not because it’s the most important but because it’s the easiest one to forget or ignore — to love the stranger as yourself,” Hetfield said.

HIAS is also welcoming interfaith efforts to help newly arriving refugees, such as one planned partnership in New York City with Buddhist groups.

Columbia University doctoral student Chad DeChant, who belongs to Village Zendo, a Zen community in lower Manhattan, initiated that effort. The group is forming committees to help refugees navigate social services, and once their application to HIAS is approved, they hope volunteers can get trained by the resettlement agency.

Buddhism teaches its adherents to be aware of “the interdependence of all beings,” DeChant said, and “the teaching is to not see ourselves as separate from others: Acting compassionately to help others is a core value in all Buddhist traditions.”

Minda Schweizer, founder and executive director of Home for Refugees, a Christian nonprofit based in Orange County, California, said resources are sorely needed at the local level where faith-based groups continue helping Afghan refugees who are still finding their way.

“Many Afghan refugees are still in motels because we’re in the midst of a housing crisis,” Schweizer said.

Matthew Soerens, the U.S. director of church mobilization and advocacy at World Relief, said his organization is eager to welcome more Ukrainians and he has been busy fielding queries from churches about ways to help: Can they host a family? Can they be involved with English tutoring?

“One of our big asks of churches is, ‘Can you help us identify landlords or property managers?’” Soerens said. “What we are really struggling with almost everywhere in the country is long-term, permanent, affordable housing.”

Meanwhile, as Ukrainians keep arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, local churches continue to step up.

Bogdan Kipko, pastor at Forward Church, a Baptist congregation in Irvine, California, has been working with churches such as Calvary as well as one Russian church in the San Diego area. Volunteers have been taking refugees to nearby hotels or hosting them in their own homes; after a short stay, those with relatives in the country typically then travel by bus, car or plane to places like Sacramento, where there is a large Ukrainian community.

The bigger challenge will be to connect those in need with long-term services and help them build new lives, Kipko said: “We’re trying to help those who have no place to go. We’re thinking about their long-term needs.”

Kipko and his family arrived in the United States in 1992 after fleeing religious persecution in Kazakhstan, and many of his relatives hail from Ukraine.

“We came here as refugees, and Baptist churches in Washington helped us get on our feet,” he said. “I’ll never forget that.”


Henao reported from Princeton, New Jersey. Associated Press writers Mariam Fam in Cairo, Peter Smith in Pittsburgh and AP photographer Gregory Bull in Chula Vista, California, contributed.


Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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Utah family at Ukraine border rescuing refugees

FARMINGTON, Utah — A South Jordan family is on the Ukraine-Poland border helping refugee families get to safety. Over the last two weeks, Bonnie and Brett Hilton have helped from 18 to 25 families.

“We came because we felt a strong connection to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” said the Hiltons.

That strong connection started nearly 20 years ago, when the Hilton family decided to grow their own family by adopting two little girls from Ukraine. Fast forward, now they’re co-founders of Deliver, a Utah-based nonprofit organization with a mission to rescue children at risk.

Much of their time spent in Ukraine and Poland has been on the roads and at the train station, where they are helping refugees get to where they need to go. They say almost always, the refugees they’ve seen have been women and children, and it’s not uncommon to see trains packed full.

“Some of them have been on the road anywhere from two days to two weeks,” said Brett and Bonnie Hilton.

Their son, Isaac, is here in Utah. He looks up to his parents and their service.

Bonnie and Brett Hilton, from Utah, are at the Poland and Ukraine border to rescue refugees. Years before they adopted two girls from Ukraine and feel strong connections to the besieged nation. (Hilton family)

“I am so, so proud. I mean, Brett and Bonnie, they are truly rockstars. I just adore them as much as a son can,” Isaac Hilton said.

Bonnie and Brett Hilton say much of their work is thanks to the support of friends and family members back home.  On Thursday, they plan to begin their journey back to Utah.

“It’s been so amazing to meet these people. They are resilient. They are strong. They are good, and they’re doing the very best that they can. It’s been awesome to watch them and be part of their lives for a moment or two,” Bonnie and Brett Hilton said.

Before leaving Ukraine, they will help train another family from St. George, who will then take their spot to continue assisting refugee families.

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4 million refugees have now fled Ukraine, UN agency says

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. refugee agency said Wednesday more than 4 million refugees have now fled Ukraine since Russia launched its war in the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

The new figure was posted on an UNHCR website. More than 2.3 million have arrived in Poland, but many have traveled onward to other countries or back into Ukraine.

Aid workers say the numbers have eased in recent days as many people await developments in the war. An estimated 6.5 million people have also been displaced from their homes within the country.

More than 608,000 have entered Romania, over 387,000 have gone to Moldova, and about 364,000 have entered Hungary since the war began on Feb. 24, based on counts provided by governments.

From the onset of the war, UNHCR had projected that about 4 million people might flee Ukraine —though it has repeatedly said that it has been reassessing its forecasts.

“Refugees from Ukraine are now 4 million, five weeks after the start of the Russian attack,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi tweeted as he crossed the border into Ukraine.

Grandi said he would be in the western city of Lviv and discuss ways to increase its support “to people affected and displaced by this senseless war.”

UNHCR teams and their partners have been working to deliver protection, emergency shelter, cash assistance, core relief items and other critical services for those who have fled.


Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at

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General Conference

SALT LAKE CITY — In the past six months, Utah has welcomed nearly 900 refugees from Afghanistan. Gov. Spencer Cox calls it the largest resettlement in our states history.

It’s the topic of one of KSL’s specials airing during General Conference weekend.

We all remember the shocking scene at the Kabul Airport last August. With the Taliban take over, Afghans who worked with the U.S. military or government were desperate to escape. 

Javid Ekhlas, his wife and two young children were among those who came to Utah.

Now, we are so comfortable here. It’s really nice for us now because day by day, we are familiar with the people, we are familiar with the places.”

Utah has two resettlement agencies that have taken the lead in helping these refugees.

Gov. Cox reaffirms Utah’s commitment to Afghan refugees

Natalie El-Deiry is the executive director of The International Rescue Committee

“It’s an incredible network of support and partnership that we benefit from. And that helps create a really strong fabric of support and networking for the poor refugees coming into Utah,” she said.

Aden Batar is the refugee services director for Catholic Community Services.

“And our community also has the depth, and also the big heart, to help those that have been persecuted and looking for a place to start a new life.”

Many Utahns have volunteered their time, loading moving vans with furniture and delivering those pieces to apartments for the refugees. Some are helping them settle in long-term, willing to spend months, even years, with them. 

Shelby Dunn is a volunteer with Catholic Community Services.

“I think their objectives are to give their children a life, and they want to be able to do that with their own independence.”

The governor and Mrs. Cox have stepped forward to help personally and support efforts on a state level.

“It’s core to who we are. I love living in a state that cares about these things. It’s part of our history,” he said. 

Abby Cox agreed, “Utahns want to give back. We’ve had people, so many people, reach out and say how can I help? How can I help? And we were guiding them to these to these organizations that are doing really powerful work.”

People of many faiths have assisted. The refugees can find clothing, furniture, jobs, and English classes at Deseret Industries.

Jean B. Bingham is Relief Society General President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“They’ve tried to make a good life in a place that they did not choose themselves. And so, the more we love, the more we can reach out to others and share what we have. Then, we become a real community.”

And most welcoming are Afghans themselves, those who came to Utah years ago, like Wali Arshad Salem, owner of Afghan Kitchen.

“I hope that I could give them, you know a little bit of hospitality that they had in Afghanistan, first slice of the Afghan culture to them.”

They all believe, it is the beginning of a new home.   

Join us for “Someone at the Other End” Saturday, April 2 at 1:30 p.m. on KSL TV and live-streaming on the KSL TV app.

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Ukraine refugees near 4 million. Will exodus slowdown last?

MEDYKA, Poland (AP) — A slowdown for good or a temporary lull during the storm of war?

While the number of refugees who have flooded out of Ukraine nears 4 million, fewer people have crossed the border in recent days. Border guards, aid agencies and refugees themselves say Russia’s unpredictable war on Ukraine offers few signs whether it’s just a pause or a permanent drop-off.

Some Ukrainians are sticking it out to fight or help defend their country. Others have left their homes but are staying elsewhere in Ukraine to wait and see how the winds of war will blow. Still others are elderly or ill and need extra help moving anywhere. And some remain, as one refugee put it, because “homeland is homeland.”

In the first two weeks after Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, about 2.5 million people in Ukraine’s pre-war population of 44 million left the country to avoid the bombs and bloodshed. In the second two weeks, the number of refugees was roughly half that.

The total exodus now stands at 3.87 million, according to the latest tally announced Monday from UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency. But in the previous 24 hours, only 45,000 people crossed Ukraine’s borders to seek safety, the slowest one-day count yet, and for four of the last five days the numbers have not surpassed 50,000 a day. In contrast, on March 6 and March 7, over 200,000 people a day left Ukraine.

“People who were determined to leave when war breaks out fled in the first days,” explained Anna Michalska, a spokeswoman for the Polish border guards.

Even if the exodus is easing, there’s no understating the scope of it.

UNHCR says the war has triggered Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, and the speed and breadth of refugees fleeing to countries including Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia — as well as Russia — is unprecedented in recent times. Poland alone has taken in 2.3 million refugees and Romania nearly 600,000. The United States has vowed to take in 100,000.

Even the devastating 11-year war in Syria, source of the world’s biggest refugee crisis, didn’t force out so many people so fast.

“We hope that hopefully the trend of new arrivals will decrease. But I don’t think there’s any guarantee of that until there’s a political solution” to the war, said Alex Mundt, UNHCR’s senior emergency coordinator in Poland.

The International Organization for Migration has also estimated that more 6.5 million people in Ukraine have been driven from their homes by the Russian invasion but remain displaced inside the country, suggesting that a large pool of potential refugees still awaits. IOM said another 12 million people are believed to be trapped in places where fighting has been intense, or don’t want to leave.

“Sadly, there are a lot of people who are not able to leave, either because transportation routes have been cut off or they just don’t have the means arrive to safety in the neighboring countries,” IOM spokesman Jorge Galindo told The Associated Press in Medyka, a Polish border town.

Jewish groups have begun an effort to bring frail Holocaust survivors out of Ukraine, but each person requires a team of rescue workers to extract such refugees.

“Now I’m too old to run to the bunker. So I just stayed inside my apartment and prayed that the bombs would not kill me,” said 83-year-old Holocaust survivor Tatyana Zhuravliova, a retired doctor who was relocated to a nursing home in Germany last week.

Michalska, the Polish border guard spokeswoman, suggested that many Ukrainians who have already fled have left the areas most affected by the fighting, and future battles could determine whether civilians in other areas decide to leave.

“We cannot exclude that there will be more waves of refugees in the future,” Michalska said by phone.

Aid agencies are not letting up in their efforts, helping those who have already gotten out of Ukraine and preparing in case new surges of refugees arrive.

At the border post in Medyka, Poland, shopping trolleys filled with luggage still rattle down a small path leading from passport control, through a village of aid tents to buses waiting to carry Ukrainian refugees to a nearby town.

“Maybe people are waiting it out, to see if their city will get attacked or not,” said Alina Beskrovna, 31, who fled the devastated, besieged southeastern city of Mariupol. She and her mother left the city five days ago but even to get to the border they had to cross 18 checkpoints: 16 Russian and two Ukrainian.

She alluded to new Russian airstrikes over the weekend near Ukraine’s western city of Lviv, which has been a key refuge for Ukrainians fleeing after the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladmir Putin.

“Putin is very unpredictable. And judging from what happened in Lviv two days ago, I think it will not stop in my region, it will not stop at Ukraine,” she said. “It will go further, so the world should prepare for more waves to come.”

Oksana Mironova, a 35-year-old refugee from Kyiv, said: “It is not getting any better — definitely not. We would like to believe it will improve, but unfortunately we need to escape.”

Yet even in the face of Russian airstrikes that obliterate apartment buildings, shopping malls and schools, the pull of home remains strong.

Olena Vorontsova, 50, fled the capital of Kyiv.

“Many people just do not want to leave their homes, because homeland is homeland,” she said.


Keaten reported from Geneva. Bassam Hatoum in Medyka, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.


Follow all AP stories on the Russia war on Ukraine at

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Ukraine missionary now translates for refugees in Germany and Austria

SALT LAKE CITY — We’ve seen a lot more blue and yellow in Utah lately, and a lot more attention to a country many people admit they couldn’t find on a map just last year.

Julie Christopher sure knows where Ukraine is.

“Never thought it would be this,” she said. “It’s very personal to us now.”

That’s because Ukraine is where her son, Parker Christopher, was serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“He just was so excited when he finally got to go and was in Kharkiv, actually,” she said.

Some of the deadliest fighting has been in Kharkiv.

It’s also where her son made a lot of friends before the Russian invasion and before he was evacuated.

“I was sad for him because he wanted so badly to stay,” said Christopher. “Some of his companions became soldiers almost overnight.”

However, his mission wasn’t over.

He wasn’t being sent back home to South Jordan.

Instead, Christopher was reassigned to Germany, then Austria.

Since he can speak Russian and Ukrainian, he is now helping Ukrainians who are fleeing from war.

“When he said there were refugee women and children who were coming up and that he was going to serve them, and help with translating for those who needed it, it was just miraculous for us. It really was,” said Julie Christopher.

Ever since, Christopher and her daughters have been to Ukraine rallies in Salt Lake with a full-size cutout of her son.

“It was actually my daughter’s idea. She said Parker would want to be here. She said, ‘let’s take him,’” said Julie Christopher.

It’s not the mission any of them expected.

But it is service at a time when many people wish more could be done.

“I’m very proud of him,” she said. “I’m very, very proud of him.”

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Humanitarian volunteers organize effort to help Ukranian refugees

Utahns head to Romania in an effort to help Ukrainian refugees. Five out of these seven volunteers have already done this same kind of work with a Utah County group called Humanitize Expeditions.

They’ve organized this effort on their own… spending their own money to get to Romania, to help Ukranians start over.

The suitcases, filled with chapstick and shoe insoles are only a small part of what Erin McBride is doing.

“Think how far they’ve walked,” McBride said. “They need shoe inserts for their feet.”

They’re just some of the supplies, being requested for Ukranian refugees. But really, McBride says her group of seven are heading to Romania to provide some manpower.

“We had already made contact with this organization called Associatia Happy, or Happy Association in Romania, and learned that there was a need for more help there,” McBride said.

While Happy Association is gathering supplies… what they really need is help, getting refugees where they need to go.

“Pick up these identified families at these shelters, and bring them across into Romania where they’ll spend a day or two at that shelter, and then we’ll take them onto the airport or a train station,” McBride said.

McBride said it was clear to herself and others, they need to do something.

Katie Walther is among them; former army nurse, who served in the first Gulf War.

“In a war situation, you either respond immediately, or you’ve missed the opportunity to help the people that are there,” Walther said.

And very quickly they say… the offers to send money and donations started pouring in.

“I don’t want my children or grandchildren to say, ‘why didn’t you do something?’ and that’s where humanitarian work becomes part of my life,” Walther said.

McBride said it all came together as they were planning another trip to Guataemala. They saw a charity overwhelmed… and there was no hesitation.

“We need to do it, because the world will always need people like us that can,” McBride said.

McBride says they’ll be spending a lot of money over there, on plane and train tickets for refugees, even rent.

There’s also the gas that it takes to get back and forth from the border, which she says costs almost double what we’re paying here per gallon.

Those interested can donate here.

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Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher raise $30 million in donations for Ukrainian refugees

(CNN) — Actors Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher have raised over $30 million for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the country amid the ongoing Russian invasion.

The couple, who first rose to fame on the sitcom “That ’70s Show,” previously vowed to match all donations to the fundraiser up to $3 million.

In a video shared on Kutcher’s Instagram, the couple thanked supporters for their donations. “Over 65,000 of you donated,” said Kunis. “We are overwhelmed with gratitude for the support.” She pointed out that while the donations will not solve the crisis, “our collective effort will provide a softer landing for so many people as they forge ahead into their future of uncertainty.”


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“We are going to do everything we can to ensure that the outpouring of love that came from you all as a part of this campaign finds the maximum impact with those in need,” added Kutcher. “As funding continues to come in, we are going to treat every dollar as if it is being donated out of our pocket.”

The International Organization for Migration says that since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in late February, over 3 million refugees have fled the country, including at least 1.5 million children. Many of them have found refuge in neighboring countries, including Romania, Moldova, and Poland. And 6.48 million people have been internally displaced, forced to leave their homes to search for safety elsewhere in the country.

As of early Sunday, more than $34 million had been donated through 69,300 individual donations according to the GoFundMe page.

Kunis herself is a “proud Ukrainian.” On the pair’s GoFundMe, she explained that she was born in Chernivtsi, a city in southwestern Ukraine, in 1983 and her family traveled to the US eight years later.

“Ukrainians are proud and brave people who deserve our help in their time of need,” she wrote. “This unjust attack on Ukraine and humanity at large is devastating and the Ukrainian people need our support.”

Donations to the GoFundMe are going to two organizations: freight transportation company Flexport, which is organizing shipments of relief supplies to refugee sites in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova, and Airbnb, which is providing free, short-term housing to refugees from Ukraine.

Kunis and Kutcher join other stars including Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, who also pledged to match donations for Ukrainian refugees, and Gigi Hadid — who donated her fashion month earnings to relief in Ukraine.

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Ukrainian refugees speak of bombs, half-empty cities, hunger

MEDYKA, Poland (AP) — Yulia Bondarieva spent 10 days in a basement as Russian planes flew over and bombs were falling on the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Having reached safety in Poland, Bondarieva’s only wish now is for her twin sister in the besieged city of Mariupol to get out, too.

“They have been in the basement since Feb. 24, they have not been out at all,” Bondarieva said. “They are running out of food and water.”

Bondarieva, 24, managed to speak to her sister on the phone recently. The fear of what will happen to her in the encircled and bombed-out city that is going through some of the worst fighting in the war has been overwhelming.

“She does not know how to leave the city,” Bondarieva said after arriving in the Polish border town of Medyka.

Before the war, Mariupol had a population of about 430,000, and about a quarter got out shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Leaving the besieged city later became nearly impossible. Tens of thousands escaped over the past week by way of a humanitarian corridor, including 3,000 on Monday, but other attempts have been thwarted by the fighting. The Mariupol City Council has asserted that several thousand residents were taken into Russia against their will.

Bondarieva said her sister told her of “Russian soldiers walking around the city” in Mariupol, and people not being allowed out.

“Civilians cannot leave,” she said. “They don’t give them anything.”

In a sign of the dangers for civilians trying to flee, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Monday that Russian shelling along a humanitarian corridor had wounded four children who were among those being evacuated. He said the shelling took place in the Zaporizhzhia region, the initial destination of those fleeing Mariupol.

The battle for the strategic port on the Azov Sea raged on Monday, with Russian and Ukrainian soldiers fighting block-by-block. It’s not known how many have died so far in Mariupol. City officials on March 15 said at least 2,300 people had been killed, with some buried in mass graves. There has been no official estimate since then, but the number is feared to be much higher after six more days of bombardment.

Maria Fiodorova, a 77-year-old refugee from Mariupol who arrived Monday in Medyka, said 90% of the city has been destroyed. “There are no buildings there (in Mairupol) any more,” she said.

For Maryna Galla, just listening to birds singing as she arrived in Poland was blissful after the sound of shelling and death in Mariupol. Galla took a stroll in the park in Przemysl with her 13-year-old son, Danil. She hopes to reach Germany next.

“It’s finally getting better,” Galla said.

The United Nations says nearly 3.5 million people have left Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion , the largest exodus of refugees in Europe since World War II.

Valentina Ketchena arrived by train at Przemsyl on Monday. She never thought that at the age of 70 she would be forced to leave her home in Kriviy Rig, and see the town in southern Ukraine almost deserted as people flee the Russian invasion for safety.

Kriviy Rig is now “half empty,” said Ketchena. She will stay now with friends in Poland, hoping to return home soon. “It (is a) very difficult time for everyone.”

Zoryana Maksimovich is from the western city of Lviv, near the Polish border. Though the city has seen less destruction than others, Maksimovich said her children are frightened and cried every night when they had to go to the basement for protection.

”I told my children that we are going to visit friends,” the 40-year-old said. “They don’t understand clearly what is going on but in a few days they are going to ask me about where their father is.”

Like most refugees, Maksimovich had to flee without her husband — men aged 18 to 60 are forbidden from leaving the country and have stayed to fight. “I don’t know how I will explain,” she said.

Once in Poland, refugees can apply for a local ID number that enables them to work and access health, social and other services. Irina Cherkas, 31, from the Poltava region, said she was afraid her children could be targeted in Russian attacks.

“For our children’s safety we decided to leave Ukraine,” she said. “When the war ends we will go back home immediately.”

Poland has taken in most of the Ukrainian refugees, more than 2 million so far. On Sunday evening, Ukrainian artists joined their Polish hosts in a charity event that raised more than $380,000.

The star of the evening was a 7-year-old Ukrainian girl, whose video singing a song from the movie “Frozen” in a Kyiv bomb shelter has gone viral and drawn international sympathy.

Wearing a white, embroidered folk dress, Amellia Anisovych, who escaped to Poland with her grandmother and brother, sang the Ukrainian anthem in a clear, sweet voice as thousands of people in the audience waved their cellphone lights in response.


Keyton reported from Przemsyl, Poland.


Follow the AP’s coverage of the war between Russia and Ukraine:

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Group from Utah, Idaho grows effort in Poland to help Ukrainian refugees

SALT LAKE CITY — A volunteer group from Utah and Idaho that’s helping Ukrainian refugees in Poland said they’re bracing for a huge surge in numbers this week.

They’re receiving even more on-the-ground help from the Beehive State as they prepare for what’s coming.

In the midnight hour when most were sleeping, a van cast headlights on a lonely, quiet road in the Polish countryside.

In the back of that van, three refugees from Ukraine — a brother, sister and sister’s child — dozed off, relishing the peace and rest. They finally crossed the border from Ukraine into Medyka, Poland, late Sunday evening.

With bus service winding down for the night, they found a private van offering to take them to Krakow two and a half hours away.

Brett Hilton sat at the wheel, with his wife Bonnie sitting behind the front passenger seat. The couple had just flown in from South Jordan, Utah, a couple days prior.

“They kind of felt inspired to come help, and we invited them to join our team. And they offered to be able to take on the lead on this,” explained Rob Sturgill, who sat in the front passenger seat next to Brett.

Sturgill, who is from Idaho, has been helping transport refugees from Medyka to Krakow and other areas of Poland for the past week.

He, along with his brother from Lehi, are part of Type of Wood Charities.  

The group arrived in Poland and rented vans to drive refugees. They are also purchasing suitcases so that people can hold their belongings.

Sturgill said many refugees arrive with their belongings in plastic grocery bags.

While the last few days saw a lull, he explained, they expect a huge week ahead in Medyka.

“There’s kind of a feeling out there right now for most folks that’s there’s going to be a large flood coming in here, probably in the next week,” he said.

Part of that, Sturgill indicated, has to do with what’s happening in the largest Ukrainian city near Medyka.

“We are getting quite a few refugees into Lviv, which is just a couple hours from the border, and there’s been a handful of bombings down there in the past week,” Sturgill said. “So there’s concerns that that area is even getting more dangerous.”

Sturgill said they’ve made connections in Medyka with volunteers who find them families to transport. Sometimes they drive them to small villages to stay with host families. Other times, they’ll drive them to the train station in Krakow as the families take the next step in their journey.

But many women and children fleeing the country don’t have an end point in mind, Sturgill explained. They simply needed to get out of Ukraine.

Thanks to donations from his co-workers, Sturgill is able to purchase hotel rooms for those families to stay in for a night or two, so they can take a shower, sleep, and eat a warm breakfast while preparing for what’s next.

Originally Sturgill was planning to return home Sunday.

Instead, Monday morning, as it neared 1 a.m., he was in the middle of yet another two-and-a-half hour trek from Medyka to Krakow.

“What’s going on here is a bit overwhelming,” Sturgill expressed. “And I think we realized that we needed to spend a little bit more time training the next group that’s coming in to be prepared.”

He now has help from Brett and Bonnie Hilton, with more volunteers arriving this week. They are ready to welcome in that next wave.

“We’ve introduced them to our contacts in each location, and have gone through with them basically all our procedures and processes that we’ve put into place,” Sturgill said. “To make sure that if the flood gates do open, that we are prepared and able to keep track of every single refugee that is in our hands.”

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Utah men, Idaho brother help Ukrainian refugees at nation’s border

SALT LAKE CITY — Two Utah men are in Poland right now, and along with a brother from Idaho, are doing what they can to help with the fleeing Ukrainian refugees.

The men rented large passenger vans and are traveling back and forth to the Ukrainian boarder to pick up refugees and take them to safety and to places with food and shelter.

“We’re in a plaza in the middle of Krakow, (Poland),” Rob Sturgill said to KSL via Zoom.

It was 10 p.m. at the time, and the day was still far from over for Rob, who is from Idaho. David is from Utah, with John Norton also from the Beehive State.

“There was a lot of tears shed today,” Sturgill said. “Not sleeping, not eating, not drinking.”

Since last weekend, the men have been working practically around the clock to help with the refugee crisis.

“You just watch busloads and busloads of these women and children coming off, and they are just startled and scared, and they’re in a situation where they don’t know what to do,” Sturgill said.

They said the most difficult part of helping out is not having enough room for everyone in their vans.

“A young lady came up to me and she said, ‘Would you please help us? Would you please help me and my children and my mother? We need to go to safety.’ It’s just touching to see the impact that we can have, you know — just individual people helping out individual people, we can make a difference.”

Back in Utah County, their story is hitting close to home at Freedom Prep Academy in Vineyard. Third grade teacher Fidias Penate, whose wife runs a dance studio, is organizing a Ukrainian Dance Concert with some popular dance groups for Saturday night as a fundraiser. The event starts at 8 p.m. at the school, located at 426 North 100 West. Fidias is working with the Sturgill’s sister who is a teacher at the school.

“Doing something rather than just feeling bad about what’s happening — doing something to help the people,” Penate said.

The men in Poland also felt like they just needed to do something. Now, the challenge will be leaving a place and a people they have come to love.

“I think the difficult thing is, you know, to feel like we’re leaving when there’s so much more to do. I think that’s the hard part,” Sturgill said.

All money raised at Saturday’s dance concert will go to the Sturgills’ nonprofit organization* that is helping Ukrainian refugees.

*KSL TV does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account, you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk.

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