Duval County

Lutheran Social Services gears up for Ukrainian refugees in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The White House has announced 100,000 Ukrainians will be admitted to the United States. Organizations like Lutheran Social Services in Jacksonville are preparing for the influx.

Since October last year, the organization has helped nearly 300 refugees transition to Northeast Florida. Most were Afghans but six Ukrainians have also come.

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Helena Chiahichina came from Kharkiv, which is one of the hardest-hit areas of Ukraine. Her family’s home and most of her city have been turned to rubble.

“It’s like a bad dream. Like you cannot even realize that this is true,” she told Action News Jax’s Robert Grant. He sat down with Chiahichina with a translator Friday. “It’s such a tragedy. Kharkiv was like one of the best cities in Ukraine. What the invaders did is unbelievable.”

She came to Jacksonville on Feb. 16, just before the war began in what she called a “lucky coincidence.”

“Everything was quiet in Ukraine. It was normal, but there was some tension.”

Her brother and most of her family and friends are still stuck in the war-torn country.

Chiahichina said her brother’s daughter was born just two days after the war and they had to escape, making it impossible to get proper documentation like a birth certificate.

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He is now hunkered down in western Ukraine.

Chiahichina is staying with her sister-in-law, Lyubov Mamchur, in Jacksonville.

“My brother’s house was damaged through the shelling. So half of it is ruined. No walls; no glass in the windows. It’s all black in the fire,” she said.

Lutheran Social Services said the pandemic has brought resettlement to a near standstill. They’re now working to revamp staffing and volunteers.

The nonprofit helps refugees overcome cultural barriers and linguistic barriers, sort out documentation, and look for jobs.

They’re currently looking for volunteers on every front.