Local Ukrainians Improvise To Bring Family Members To LA
Shortly after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in late February, Lyubov Belousov ran out to stock up on food at the local grocery store in Hvardiiske, a small town in the southeast that’s home to the base for the 25th Airborne Brigade.
Her daughter, Tatiana Tomicki, recounts what her mother told her by phone about that day.
“It was 7 a.m., and that’s when the first three bombs started falling down [on the base],” said Tomicki, who lives in West Los Angeles. “The whole ground was shaking, and people were just like screaming and panicking in the middle of the little market.”
As soon as she heard the news, Tomicki knew she had to do something.
“I called them and I asked them: ‘When do your tourist visas expire?’ “ she said.
She’d gotten her parents the visas back in 2015 so they could attend her wedding. Luckily, she learned, the visas were still valid.
Tomicki’s parents were reluctant to leave at first; they didn’t have a car. But she and her brother, who also lives in L.A., convinced them to go. They got a cab ride from Hvardiiske to the nearest city, then boarded a crowded train bound for Poland, where strangers took them in.
After roughly a month there, her parents finally arrived at LAX last week.
“We are just so lucky that they had a visa,” Tomicki said, “because otherwise they would have to sit and wait.”
‘Not A Lot Of Guidance’
In late March, the Biden administration said it would accept up to 100,000 displaced Ukrainians. But so far, no formal process to admit them has been announced.
The administration also said some Ukrainian citizens would be eligible for Temporary Protected Status, but they must have been in the U.S. as of March 1.
For lack of other options, a growing number of Ukrainians have chosen to travel to Mexico and have been admitted into the U.S. under humanitarian parole.
Meanwhile, local refugee resettlement agencies wait for details from the State Department as they field calls from Ukrainian families seeking advice, including relatives of people who've crossed the border. So far, they’ve had limited information to provide, said Lilian Alba, vice president of immigrant and refugee services for the International Institute of Los Angeles.
“Unfortunately, because there's not a lot that has been issued, not a lot of guidance that has been provided, we're simply providing very basic information,” Alba said, “collecting numbers, keeping a list of those families so that when we receive guidance, we can go back to them.”
Some families who came as refugees may apply to bring loved ones via the Lautenberg Program, which benefits certain minorities in the former Soviet Union. But it’s a process that takes time, she said.
Crossing The Border
Early last Wednesday morning, with two sleepy children in tow, Tatiana Dub crossed through the port of entry from Tijuana to San Ysidro.
Vasyl Dub, her husband, is an entrepreneur who runs a small tech startup. Until the war he split his time between California, staying in L.A. and the Palo Alto area, and their home outside Lviv in western Ukraine.
After the invasion began, Tatiana packed up the kids, 5 and 10, and drove to the Polish border roughly 40 miles away. She said getting there took close to 24 hours, as long lines of cars packed the road.
Once in Poland, volunteers helped house them. Vasyl, who said he’s in the U.S. on a temporary business visa, tried to get them visitor visas to join him. As he was trying, without success, he got a tip.
“My friend called me and said that there is another way, to bring family here sooner,” he said. “And this was the humanitarian parole through Mexico.”
Tatiana said she applied online for visas to travel to Mexico. She and the children flew from Warsaw to Barcelona, where they stayed the night, then to Mexico City, then on to Tijuana.
At the Tijuana airport, they were met by some of the volunteers who’ve been helping Ukrainians at the border. In recent weeks, a large network of volunteers, many from churches on the U.S. side, have been working to provide rides, food, shelter and other aid.
‘When Are We Going To See Dad?’
“Twenty-four hours, they are in the airport, they are always ready to pick you up,” said Tatiana, who was deeply impressed by the support. “I really can't imagine how we [could] do all this without them.”
Tatiana described being led to a “registration table” after clearing customs. There, someone registered them and gave them a number, what she was told was their turn in line. Then, she said, the volunteers gave them a ride to a hotel that Vasyl had found for them.
Their turn came up four days later. At around 4 a.m., Tatiana and the kids took an Uber to a pedestrian border crossing. Tatiana said during the journey, her kids “asked me every three meters, mom, when, when are we going to see Dad?”
At the border, it took about an hour for them to be processed for humanitarian parole and admitted.
Vasyl, who drove down from Palo Alto, was waiting on the other side. He saw the kids waving at him from a couple hundred yards away.
“It was crazy,” Vasyl said. “I was so excited.”
For now, they’re staying with a host family in Palo Alto as they decide what to do and where to settle. All can legally stay temporarily, but they’ll have to find ways to adjust their status to stay in the U.S. long-term if it turns out they can’t go back.
With the war continuing, Vasyl said, “it’s difficult to understand the whole picture and plan for a long time.”
‘Very Safe And Very Calm’
In West L.A., Tatiana Tomicki’s parents are settling in. For now, they’re staying with Tomicki, her husband and their five-year-old daughter in their small apartment, sleeping in their granddaughter’s room.
Tomicki recently put the callout on Nextdoor seeking temporary housing for them, and said she’s been flooded with offers from potential hosts.
She’s also thinking about sponsoring her parents for green cards.
“I told them, they still can go back if they want to,” Tomicki said. “They can travel at least, you know, back and forth.”
When, or whether, they can do that is still an open question.
Speaking in the family’s native tongue of Russian, Tomicki asked her mother how she was feeling, now that she’s in L.A. She translated, her voice cracking a little, as her mother spoke.
“Very safe and very calm,” Tomicki said, adding, “And we’re about to start crying here, I have a feeling.”