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Utahns struggle to get Ukrainian fleeing relatives to the Beehive State

Utahns struggle to get Ukrainian fleeing relatives back home. (Photo: courtesy Jonathon Faber)
Utahns struggle to get Ukrainian fleeing relatives back home. (Photo: courtesy Jonathon Faber)
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Utahns who are willing and ready to open their arms and homes to Ukrainian refugees are finding it’s difficult and pretty much impossible right now.

It’s frustrating and heartbreaking for people like Jonathon Faber, who lives in Utah and wants to get his sisters, three nieces and one nephew, including a two-month-old baby to the Beehive State.

They fled their homes in eastern Ukraine one day before Russian bombs hit in a town 45 minutes away. The attacks were getting close and they had to run.

“I feel it’s my responsibility right now to make sure they are safe,” said Faber.

Not only does Jonathon loves his family, but he feels an added responsibility because his brother-in-law, who stayed behind to join the Ukrainian military to fight the Russian invasion, called him to ask that he take care of the family.

Jonathon, along with two younger siblings, was adopted by a Utah family 11 years ago when they were in a Ukrainian orphanage.

His two older sisters remained in Ukraine all their lives until the Russian invasion.

With the help of his Utah family and a big friend network, his two older sisters and their kids got to safety in France.

A friend of the Faber family who has a sister in Paris who went to Poland/Ukraine border to get Jonathan’s sisters. She took them to her home, then to a hotel where they remain now.

“They did not know anyone. I had to send them pictures and say ‘this is the person who’s going to meet you,’" he said.

But that turned out to be the easy part.

The Faber’s found that even with the help of an immigration attorney, there is no way to get Jonathon’s sisters to Utah.

“There is red tape as far as you can see,” said Justin Fabre, Jonathan’s older brother.

The family reached out to Sen. Mitt Romney’s office for help . They say a staffer there told them there are so many refugees from several war-torn countries waiting for their visas to be processed. Jonathon's sisters and their kids would have to get in a seemingly never-ending line that might take 15 years to process their visa applications.

Justin said this experience makes it more clear to him that immigration laws get in the way of helping people from other countries who are in crisis.

“ I constantly hear the reference ‘just get in line, come here legally'. People die waiting,” he said.

Aden Batar, Director of Migration and Refugee Services for Catholic Community Services, which resettles most of the refugees that come to Utah, said for now, there is no way to get Ukrainians here - even if they have relatives who can house and support them.

He gets calls daily from Utahns who have relatives in Ukraine or other Utahns who just want to help.

He tells those with relatives in Ukraine to hire a good immigration attorney.

For others who want to help he suggests they donate to trusted organizations that are helping Ukrainian refugees like the International Red Cross, LDS Charities or Catholic Relief Services.

Batar said the federal government decides yearly how many refugees will come into the U.S. The government decided 125,000 total refugees would be resettled in he U.S. this year from countries that do not include Ukraine.

That determination was made before the Ukraine invasion by Russia. The government could decide to reallocate refugee assignments based on what’s happening in Ukraine but at this point, that decision has not been made.

In early March, the Department of Homeland Security issued Temporary Protected Status for 18 months to Ukrainians who already lived here by Mar. 1.

TPS protects people from war-torn areas from deportation and allows them to live legally in the country for a temporary period.

Another issue for Ukrainians is that most have fled without the documents they need to travel.

People like Jonathon’s family would need a visa to travel to the U.S. but that’s nearly impossible to get . Embassies in Ukraine are destroyed and the embassies in neighboring countries like Poland are jammed with people seeking appointments.

All of this leaves Jonathon frustrated and heartbroken for his family who is stuck in a hotel room in France. They don’t know the language and don’t know what’s in their future.

He said it doesn’t make sense that he and his family in Utah have the ability to help, but can’t do so.

“We are not asking for housing, food, we are asking to let them in and let us take care of them," he said.

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Click here to read Jonathon Faber's blog and to learn more about his journey.

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