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As Ukrainian refugees continue arriving, organizations still in need of support for them

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Posted at 12:58 PM, Aug 10, 2022

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — For Ukrainian refugees in America, it's a new life plagued by waiting.

"Their food stamp card, their SNAP EBT benefits which can take about a month, their refugee medical assistance and then there are certain employment-based cash assistance programs that people can be eligible for," said Max Rykov, director of development and communications at the Nashville International Center for Empowerment.

But waiting can be difficult when time is of the essence.

"The actual mechanism that they're allowed in the United States is the same one that was used when the U.S. accepted over 70,000 Afghan evacuees and that is called 'humanitarian parole,'" Rykov said.

That status allows refugees to stay in the U.S. for two years, but it is not a path to citizenship.

"Unfortunately, it does not carry any of the benefits that refugees are accustomed to receiving," said Rykov.

A lack of benefits — plus waiting on employment authorization — has left many in limbo, struggling to build a new life.

Among those who sought refuge in Nashville are Olena and Viktor Cherednichenk. In the early morning of Feb. 24, rocket strikes hit Kharkiv, Ukraine, where they lived.

They said they left everything behind and drove west, first to Slovakia and then Poland. Finally came the news: they'd be allowed in the U.S. through the Biden administration's Uniting for Ukraine program.

"They don't have the right to work off the bat; they have to apply, and so there's a huge backlog in the U.S. immigration service to authorize work documents," Rykov said of humanitarian parole.

That backlog has left many without work, an income or even health care.

"So we definitely look for support in the community to fill in those gaps, especially for things like transportation and food," said Rykov.

The Nashville International Center for Empowerment currently helps 75 Ukrainian refugees, but that number is expected to grow, which is why the organization has launched a new Refugee Relief Fund.

"We want to have Nashville be a place where we celebrate diversity and welcome our new neighbors, and one of the coolest ways to do that is to get involved with your local refugee resettlement agency," said Rykov.

Whether it's a monetary donation or volunteering your time, advocates say the need is still there, and it won't go away anytime soon.

This story was written by Olivia Michael for WTVF.