by Yanina Makoviy
Ron and his wife are a couple from Illinois. They followed the news about Ukraine since the war started. They initially responded by making donations, but felt that they want to make a direct and visible impact – they became a sponsor for Ukrainian family for “Uniting for Ukraine” program.
“My reasons for feeling so strongly about participating have to do with my background and circumstances. Being Jewish, I grew up with a strong sense of the history of the Second World War and the Holocaust. “
How did you find a family you are sponsoring?
After deciding we would sponsor a Ukrainian family the next step was to connect with a deserving family. The government websites for DHS and USCIS have general information about the U4U program but do not offer any guidance on how Americans can connect with suitable Ukrainians. We imagined that perhaps there would be an online registry where one could search through a database of displaced Ukrainians via criteria like family size, whether they had young children or elderly parents, etc. Americans could find a good match and then reach out to make an introduction and become acquainted. This model works well for job searches, online dating, online pet searches, so why not for displaced persons matching? Of course nothing like that exists. Not yet, at any rate.
We found a Facebook group Helping Ukrainian refugees in the USA . We found what we were looking for. Sort of, at any rate. There are multiple postings daily by Ukrainian families hoping to find American sponsors. These postings typically include descriptions of their families and photos and why they want to come to the USA. In no time, Americans interested in becoming sponsors can reach out and strike up conversations directly with such Ukrainians.
Did you have any concerns about becoming a sponsor?
Yes, of course! My wife had very strong misgivings about taking strangers we met on the Internet into our home. I reminded her that she and I met through online dating many years ago.
There is tremendous risk in this process for both the American hosts and the Ukrainians. Each is vulnerable to possible exploitation by the other. If anything, I think the Ukrainians are running much larger risks. In particular women arriving in the USA without their husbands or fathers run grave risks of exploitation and need to be very selective.
In our case, my wife and I came up with some criteria for how we might choose a family to connect with.
- Did the family need to be Jewish, given my motivation coming from the experience and lessons of the Holocaust? All Ukrainians who are suffering from this war whether they are Orthodox Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, or non-affiliated with any religion are equally entitled to relief and help. This is not a criterion that matters to us.
- Did it matter if a man, or men, between the ages of 18-60 are part of the family? We decided that this too was not a significant factor in our decision. We cannot imagine the stress Ukrainians are going through as they have to leave their homes and possessions and lives behind. Who are we to judge whether or why a family was able to leave with their men.
- Did it matter if the family has young children or teenagers or no children? Or what the ages are of the adults? Here, we decided it did matter. We want to have the family stay with us in our home in the Chicago suburbs. We are prepared to have them stay for as little or as long as necessary to successfully integrate into American life. So it seemed the best chance for success would be a family similar to ours. We have a daughter who is age 7. So we felt a family with a child or children in that age group would be best.
- Did it matter if the family can communicate in English? We decided that this has to be somewhat of a factor. While we did not want to exclude non English speakers, in all fairness it would be hard to build trust and decide whether we could sponsor a family without a basic level of understanding. Google Translate can help a lot in such situations, but we admitted that English would be a plus. That feels harsh and unfair to the many deserving people who do not speak English well, however we had to admit it would lead to a better chance of successful integration.
With the family we have chosen to sponsor things then began to move very fast. They are a lovely family of four with 2 girls who can be “sisters” to our daughter. They are from Kherson in southern Ukraine and left when Russians occupied their city and made life there intolerable. We have had a series of video calls and email and chat discussions.
What are your expectations once the family arrives to the USA?
We are expecting this to be a rewarding experience for both our families! We are hoping to help them integrate quickly into American life. We will enroll the older daughter in the local elementary school our daughter attends. The younger daughter is not old enough for school yet so we will explore preschool options for her. We will help the parents obtain EAD (Employment Authorizations) so they can begin working as soon as possible. We will help them get health insurance, Illinois drivers licenses, cellphone plans, etc. We look forward to backyard barbecues with them on Memorial Day and the 4th of July. We are excited to introduce them to the NFL and to make them lifelong Chicago Bears fans. Being Jewish, I have never permitted a Christmas tree in our house despite my wife and daughter’s pleading (they are not Jewish). However I have made it clear that if the Ukrainian family is with us in December and wish to have a tree, then yes we will have a tree right next to our Hanukkah Menorah. In the future, I hope and dream that our two families will become closely linked and treat each other as one extended family. I have rose colored dreams that our daughters truly think of each other as sisters, and will one day be bridesmaids at each other’s weddings.