Across the United States this weekend, some Ukrainian refugees are marking Independence Day by celebrating their own new beginnings.
Since Russia began its attacks on Ukraine on February 24, more than 71,000 Ukrainians have sought refuge in the United States. In total, more than eight million Ukrainians have fled the country.
A group of refugees fled Ukraine amid attacks from Russia three months ago, embarking on a tumultuous journey to leave their home country. After fleeing to Moldova, they traveled to Amsterdam, caught a flight to Mexico and finally crossed the border into the United States. NBC News’ Kerry Sanders met the group at a church shelter in San Rafael, Calif., located in the state’s Bay Area.
The shelter quickly became a place that one of the refugees, Victor, calls the “first comfort” they have had since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Many of those at the shelter have spent their time practicing and learning English in online classes every day, while some fear they may never return to their home countries due to the destruction caused by the continuous attacks from Russia. Elsy Alvarado, a community church volunteer in BayMarin, explained, “People had no intention of leaving their country, but they are being attacked.
“I feel in this country, I have some hope,” Victor told Sanders of his future.
He also cited the shelter’s volunteers as a massive help during this difficult time in their lives, telling Sanders, “Without the help of volunteers, I don’t know what we’re doing.”
Among the church shelter volunteers is Marina Gelman, who immigrated to the United States from Odessa, Ukraine, with her family more than four decades ago. Gelman’s own family escaped persecution from Adolf Hitler and the KGB, which influenced his own feelings towards Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This 4th of July weekend, shelter volunteers are clearing space at the shelter for another family seeking shelter in the Bay Area.
Monday, June 20 marked World Refugee Day, a more poignant day given the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. A few weeks before the holiday, Lidiya Yankovskaya’s Refugee Orchestra Project came together for a performance on Remembrance Day that would specifically benefit the Ukrainian refugee crisis and raise money for wartime charities, as well as to support the Relief Fund for Ukrainian Musicians.
“When the Syrian refugee crisis started, I saw so much anti-refugee sentiment around me and it surprised me a lot in this country, because we are a country of immigrants and refugees,” Yankovskaya said. to NBC’s Anne Thompson. “I thought ‘What can I do to solve this problem?’ I am not a politician, but I am a musician… Music is a work that is transferable whatever language you speak, whatever culture you come from.
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