Exhaustion and relief were written on the faces of arrivals of Condor flight 2050 Saturday morning as they walked into the lobby of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
Family members and volunteers from the Ukraine Relief Program were there to greet them with flowers and hugs. Twelve people from Ukraine arrived over the weekend, and hundreds more are expected in the coming weeks thanks to the local nonprofit and a new federal program.
Among those on Saturday’s nine-hour flight were Mariia and Anton Bershytska and their three-year-old son, Iaroslav. They spent three months in Poland after fleeing their home in Bucha, outside Kyiv, in February.
“Our city was destroyed by war, and many people died there and all infrastructure of Bucha was destroyed, too. And it was awful,” said Mariia Bershytska.
Now they’ll stay with family here in Anchorage thanks in part to the federal Uniting for Ukraine program, which allows Ukrainians sponsored by U.S. citizens to come for a two-year parole period.
“We will stay here in this program during two years, and we hope that the peace in our Ukraine will be (restored) and we can (go) back there. We hope so,” said Bershytska.
The United Nations estimates that more than six million Ukrainians have been displaced since Russia invaded earlier this year. That number will rise as the conflict drags on.
“It’s been sort of surreal at times. I mean, it’s, as an American, it’s hard to understand,” said Mike Robbins, the finance and outreach chair for the Ukraine Relief Program. Anton is his nephew. Robbins’ wife is Ukrainian, and their family has been closely following news of what’s happening back home.
The local nonprofit run by members of New Chance Christian Church received generous financial support from the Rasmuson Foundation and others, allowing them to purchase plane tickets for Ukrainians with relatives in Alaska.
Robbins said donations are welcome, but it’s not what they need most right now.
“What we really need is people who would like to help us sponsor them into the country,” Robbins said. “Then we help with job placement, and all of the other things that go along with coming.”
They hope to bring up to a thousand people to Alaska in the coming weeks and months. Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor can visit ukrainereliefprogram.com to learn more.