A group of Ukrainians gathers for an evening of games at Salem For Refugees’ facility on April 28, 2023. The organization has helped nearly 400 of the approximately 4,500 Ukrainians who have arrived in Oregon since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. (Photo by Salem For Refugees via Oregon Capital Chronicle)

About 4,500 Ukrainians have arrived in Oregon since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, upending their lives and forcing them to flee the danger and chaos of their homeland.

Nearly two years later, government agencies, resettlement organizations and community groups have banded together to help Ukrainians settle into a new life in Oregon. To help accomplish that task, the Oregon Department of Human Services Refugee Program is accepting applications from community agencies for part of $2.25 million in federal funding to help Ukrainians arriving in Oregon with housing, employment assistance, health care and legal assistance.

The state administers cash and medical benefits to people arriving from Ukraine and other nations, including Afghanistan, through the Oregon Department of Human Services Refugee Program.

Ukrainians arrive through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, part of the U.S. Department of State. The federal agency contracts with national non-profit organizations called resettlement agencies. In Oregon, there are six resettlement agencies: Catholic Charities of Oregon, Catholic Community Services of Lane County, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, Lutheran Community Services Northwest, Salem For Refugees and Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees.

At Salem For Refugees, Ukrainian navigator Kseniia Hnatovska said her organization has helped nearly 400 Ukrainians settle in Salem and the surrounding area, including Keizer and Albany. 

Hnatovska arrived in Oregon in March 2022, after her city of Kharkiv near the Russian border was bombed and her family stayed in the cellar for shelter. Relatives in the United States helped her get to Oregon, she said. 

“It was horrible, because we had a great life and then suddenly, the war began,” she said. 

Besides the potential grant money, officials at Salem For Refugees appreciate local help, like volunteers who provide transportation and donations of hygiene supplies. Hnatovska helps people with tasks like learning how to find work and access health care. 

Many Ukrainian refugees arrive in Oregon with little. Most do not have a lot of savings, and the exchange rate for the U.S. dollar is low, Hnatovska said. It now takes about 36 hryvnias, the Ukrainian currency, to buy one dollar.  

“In Ukraine, $20 is pretty good money,” Hnatovska said in an interview with the Capital Chronicle. “Here, it’s nothing. Even if you come here with $3,000, you can spend it in less than one month.”

Because of the cost of living in Oregon, people share apartments and houses to save money, giving up the independence they had in Ukraine, Hnatovska said.

And they are willing to do any job, regardless of their past occupation in Ukraine.

As they start their new lives, Ukrainians often work as cleaners, drivers and caregivers, said Yulia Shipulina, a community outreach coordinator with Lutheran Community Services Northwest.

Shipulina said Ukrainians who arrive may need mental health services too, as they endured the trauma of war. Months after arriving in Oregon, they may suffer from survivor syndrome because they lived through a war and others did not. Ukrainians can go to individual and group therapy to get help with those issues, Shipulina said.

“This is the time to think about mental health,” she said. “It’s really harsh — feeling alone here and in a new place, feeling guilty that you are here, but your country’s suffering.”

Just under half, $1 million, of the grant is designated for housing assistance. The remaining includes $500,000 for employment services, $300,000 for health and mental health programs, $300,000 for legal services and $75,000 for services to help senior citizens. The deadline to apply is Nov. 24.

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report.

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