Local church welcomes first Ukrainian refugees to Philadelphia

A Philadelphia church is ready to welcome the first Ukrainian refuges to the city after a treacherous journey to escape their war-torn homeland. 

St. Nicholas Patriarchal Orthodox Church in North Philadelphia will welcome Alla and Veronika Tuesday night. The woman walked 450 miles from Kiev to Warsaw, Poland to escape the war. 

Vice President and Choir Director Susan Guz, and Bishop Luke traveled to JFK Airport to pick up the women. Bishop Luke says the women are traumatized by the horror they witnessed during their 4-day-long trek to the western border.

The church sent the women money to help them secure visas and temporary shelter in Poland. Guz gifted them airfare to come to the U.S. and strangers are sending checks to the church to show their support for the Ukrainian people. 

"I think everyone identifies with this," Guz said. "A democratic country minding their business boom! Being attacked!" 

In the first two weeks after Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, about 2.5 million people in Ukraine’s pre-war population of 44 million left the country to avoid the bombs and bloodshed. In the second two weeks, the number of refugees was roughly half that.

The total exodus now stands at 3.87 million, according to the latest tally announced Monday from UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency. But in the previous 24 hours, only 45,000 people crossed Ukraine’s borders to seek safety, the slowest one-day count yet, and for four of the last five days the numbers have not surpassed 50,000 a day. In contrast, on March 6 and March 7, over 200,000 people a day left Ukraine.

"People who were determined to leave when war breaks out fled in the first days," explained Anna Michalska, a spokeswoman for the Polish border guards.

Even if the exodus is easing, there’s no understating the scope of it.

UNHCR says the war has triggered Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, and the speed and breadth of refugees fleeing to countries including Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia — as well as Russia — is unprecedented in recent times. Poland alone has taken in 2.3 million refugees and Romania nearly 600,000. The United States has vowed to take in 100,000

President Joe Biden said the United States would admit up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and provide $1 billion in humanitarian assistance to countries affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The administration did not provide a timeline, but it’s typically a lengthy process and the officials said all 100,000 may not necessarily arrive this year. Most of the refugees probably will settle in parts of the U.S. that already have large concentrations of Ukrainians.

The Associated Press contributed to this report



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