Ukrainian Refugees Find Refuge in Lincoln But Need Housing Options
June 16, 2022, 9:53 p.m. ·
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Since Russia’s invasion and attempted overthrow of Ukraine last February, the United Nations estimates more than 5 million Ukrainians have fled their homes and country. It’s the largest refugee crisis since World War II on European soil.
The first of those Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Nebraska safe from war. They now face a host of other challenges.
Chief among them is finding a place to rent.
Pavlo Pidchinko, his pregnant wife Natalia, and six children didn’t believe Russia would invade their Ukrainian hometown of Kharkiv. Most residents there speak fluent Ukrainian and Russian. Then reality struck on February 24th, when Russia invaded Ukraine.
"My family and I stood up, looked at each other. Is it really true?," said Pidchinko. "We opened the window and heard the explosions. And I couldn't believe this reality."
250 miles south, Russian troops stormed into Alexander and Inna Solokhin’s Ukrainian hometown of Melitopol.
Life changed forever for the Solokhin’s family of eight.
"On March 1, we left," said Alexander Solokhin. "We saw big lines, looted stores, burned cars, tanks shelled. We decided to leave."
5,700 miles away, Larissa Solokhin and her Lincoln, Nebraska family started frantically calling relatives and friends in Ukraine.
"We called, asking how they were doing? We wondered how they were doing," she said. "Who were our friends there? We worried and we prayed."
In early June, a three-month journey of uncertainty through Poland, Germany and Mexico brought the Pidchinko and Solokhin families to Lincoln. Inna Solokhin and Natalia Pidchinko say their families finally feel safe and welcomed.
"And the most important thing is that the people here are very kind," said Inna Solokhin. "We are just generally struck by this kindness."
"A woman found out that we were from Ukraine for the first time and started crying and hugging us. And it was very touching," said Natalia Pidchinko.
More Ukrainian refugee families are set to arrive this year. They’re sponsored by local Ukrainian host families.
Iryna Rozlach is a Ukrainian refugee specialist at Lincoln’s Asian Community & Cultural Center.
"One hundred households with their host families who are with their relatives living all together," she said.
Rozlach says many Ukrainian refugee families, even though they have subsidized rent, are having a hard time finding big enough places to rent in Lincoln for their large families.
"Like seven, eight, nine members in one household and it’s very hard for them to find houses and that’s the biggest challenge for them," she said.
ACCC Executive Director Sheila Dorsey Vinton says their agency is also recovering from refugee funding cuts by the Trump administration. It capped refugee resettlements at 15-thousand in 2021. This year, the Biden administration’s goal is 125-thousand resettlements.
"The refugee resettlement framework was dismantled in the previous administration and it has been a struggle to try to revamp it to scale it back up very quickly," Vinton said.
Despite the uncertainties of finding a home, the Pidchinko's and Solokhins, for now, are living with Ben Solokhin’s Nebraska family.
We are Christians and cannot be indifferent to grief," he said. "We don't look at it. We don't count it. We rejoice that they are with us".
"There’s 23 of us in the household right now," Miriam Solokhin said.
23 mouths to feed, clothe and bed. 19-year-old Miriam Solokhin does most of the interpreting and paperwork.
She's helping the refugee families apply for temporary government subsidized rent, medical and employment assistance.
"Because these people don’t have anything," she said. "They have to start lives all over again. Here I am. I have everything in my life. To just be thankful every day."
The Pidchinko's and Solokhins say they’re thankful too.
"May God bless all those people who care about refugees and Ukrainians who help them," Alexander Solokhin said.
"We would, of course, like to thank all the people who care about us, worry about us, care about us, and help us," Pavlo Pidchinko said. "We are very grateful, especially to the friends who took us in."
If you know of a home available for rent by a Ukrainian refugee family or wish to donate items to refugee families in Lincoln or Lancaster County here are social service agencies to contact:
Catholic Social Services and Lutheran Family Services are the resettlement agencies in Lincoln and Lancaster County. They receive government funding to help with resettlement of refugee families within the first 90 days of resettlement. The Asian Community and Cultural Center also receives funding from government agencies to support families who have been resettled by agencies like Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska and Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska.
Asian Community and Cultural Center
Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska
Refugee Resettlement Services
Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska
Omaha Central Administration Office
124 South 24th Street, Suite 230
Omaha, NE 68102
If you wish to donate furniture, clothing or know of a home available for rent by the Ukrainian refugee families featured in this report, contact Miriam Solokhin at 402-416-7911 or you may drop off donations at the Fox Shoes and Repair shop in Lincoln.
Address: 5601 S 56th St Suite 103C, Lincoln, NE 68516
Hours: Tue to Fri: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM & Sat: 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM