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

Jun 10, 2022, 7:09 PM | Updated: 8:42 pm

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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