Local Ukrainians improvise to bring family members to Los Angeles
Shortly after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in late February, Lyubov Belousov fled to stock up on food at the local grocery store in Hvardiiske, a small town in the southeast that is home to the base of the 25th Airborne Brigade.
Her daughter, Tatiana Tomicki, recounts what her mother told her on the phone about that day.
Years-old visas allow Ukrainian couple to seek refuge in Los Angeles
“It was 7 a.m., and that’s when the first three bombs started falling. [on the base]said Tomicki, who lives in West Los Angeles. “The whole floor was shaking and people were screaming and panicking in the middle of the small market.”
As soon as she heard the news, Tomicki knew she had to do something.
“I called them and said, ‘When do your tourist visas expire?’ ” she says.
She had obtained her parents’ visas in 2015 so that they could attend her wedding. Fortunately, she learned, the visas were still valid.
Tomicki’s parents were reluctant to leave at first; they had no car. But she and her brother, who also lives in Los Angeles, convinced them to go. They took a taxi from Hvardiiske to the nearest town, then boarded a crowded train bound for Poland, where strangers took them.
After about a month there, her parents finally arrived at LAX last week.
“We’re so lucky they got a visa,” Tomicki said, “because otherwise they’d have to sit and wait.”
“Not a lot of advice”
At the end of March, the Biden administration declared that 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 that some Ukrainian citizens would be eligible for temporary protected statusbut they were to be in the United States by March 1.
For lack of other options, an increasing number of Ukrainians have chosen to travel to Mexico and were admitted to the United States under humanitarian parole.
Ukrainians enter California via Mexico
Meanwhile, local refugee resettlement agencies await details from the State Department as they field calls from Ukrainian families asking for advice, including relatives of people who have crossed the border. So far, they’ve had little information to provide, said Lilian Alba, vice president of immigrant and refugee services at the Los Angeles International Institute.
“Unfortunately because there’s not a lot that’s been published, not a lot of advice that’s been provided, we’re just providing very basic information,” Alba said, “collecting numbers, keeping a list of those families so that when we receive advice, we can come back to them.
Some families who came as refugees may apply to bring loved ones through the Lautenberg Program, which benefits certain minorities in the former Soviet Union. But it’s a process that takes time, she says.
To exceed the limits
Early last Wednesday morning, with two sleeping children in tow, Tatiana Dub drove through the Tijuana Port of Entry in San Ysidro.
Vasyl Dub, her husband, is an entrepreneur who runs a small tech startup. Until the war, he divided his time between California, staying in Los Angeles and the Palo Alto area, and their home outside of Lviv in western Ukraine.
After the invasion began, Tatiana packed up the 5- and 10-year-olds and drove to the Polish border about 40 miles away. She said it took nearly 24 hours to get there, as long lines of cars lined the road.
Once in Poland, volunteers helped to house them. Vasyl, who said he was in the United States on a temporary business visa, tried to obtain visitor visas to join him. As he tried, without success, he received a tip.
“My friend called me and said there was another way to get the family here sooner,” he said. “And that was 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 spent the night, then to Mexico City, then to Tijuana.
At the Tijuana airport, they were greeted by some of the volunteers who helped Ukrainians at the border. In recent weeks, an extensive network of volunteers, many from churches on the American side, have worked to provide rides, food, shelter and other aid.
‘When are we going to see daddy?’
“Twenty-four hours they are at the airport, they are always ready to pick you up,” said Tatiana, who was deeply impressed with the support. “I really can’t imagine how we [could] do all this without them.
Tatiana described being taken to a “registration table” after going through customs. There, someone registered them and gave them a number, they were told it was their turn. Then, she said, the volunteers drove them to a hotel that Vasyl had found for them.
Their turn came four days later. Around 4 a.m., Tatiana and the children took an Uber to a pedestrian border crossing. Tatiana said during the trip, her children “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, from Palo Alto, was waiting on the other side. He saw the children waving at him a few hundred yards away.
“It was crazy,” Vasyl said. “I was so excited.”
For now, they are staying with a host family in Palo Alto while they decide what to do and where to settle. All can legally stay temporarily, but they will need to find ways to adjust their status to stay in the United States long-term if they are found unable to return.
With the war going on, Vasyl said, “it’s hard to understand the whole picture and plan for a long time.”
“Very safe and very quiet”
In West LA, the parents of Tatiana Tomicki settle. For now, they are staying with Tomicki, her husband and their five-year-old daughter in their small apartment, sleeping in their granddaughter’s bedroom.
Tomicki recently called Nextdoor looking for temporary accommodation for them and said she had been inundated with offers from potential hosts.
She is also thinking of sponsoring her parents for green cards.
“I told them they could always come back if they wanted to,” Tomicki said. “They can travel at least, you know, back and forth.”
When, or if, they can do this is still an open question.
Speaking in the family’s native language, Russian, Tomicki asked her mother how she felt now that she was in Los Angeles. 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.”
What questions do you have about immigration and emerging communities in LA?