How the state's organizations and residents have rallied since
the start of the Russo-Ukrainian War and the emergence of
the Uniting for Ukraine initiative.
Story and Media By Amy Sheldon
World of Colors Concert in Newtown, CT, October 1, 2022
Sort of 'building the plane as it's flying.'
We're just barely recovering from the Afghan crisis"
- Tabitha Soodkeo
Since the Biden Administration launched the Uniting for Ukraine Program (U4U) on April 21, waves of Ukrainian parolees have entered Connecticut through sponsorship by the state’s residents - yet, resettlement agencies have been wholly left in the dark as to just how many and when.
"The US government has the information of all of the sponsors and the folks that are filling out these forms, but they're not sharing them with us," said Tabitha Sookdeo, Interim Director of Community Engagement at Integrated Refugee & Immigration Services (IRIS).
The federal U4U program has expedited the process of moving refugees from Ukraine to the United States, leaving state programs and non-profit resettlement agencies struggling to meet the demand of the largest parole in decades.
“It feels like we’re sort of building the plane as it's flying,” said Sookdeo. “We’re just barely recovering from the Afghan crisis, everyone’s super burnt out, and we really need more assistance.”
Connecticut’s four main resettlement agencies – IRIS, the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants (CIRI), Jewish Federation of CT, and Connecticut Coalition of Mutual Assistance – are providing English lessons, legal assistance, health education, and many other areas of assistance to incoming Ukrainian refugees. IRIS has assisted 260 Ukrainians with their resettlement in Connecticut just this year.
Although IRIS is the largest settlement agency in Connecticut, with around 90 full-time employees, their Ukrainian Program is in its infancy, lacking the resources and staffing to assist the incoming Ukrainians.
“We need training,” said Sookdeo. “We need more funding. We need access to government information, like a database of current sponsors, so that we can kind of catch [sponsors] before families come and set them up for success. We just don’t have access to that information, so there’s really this gap between us providing services and knowing who we should be reaching out to.”
However, IRIS members, especially those in the Ukrainian Program, recognize what seems to be a stronger public support for Ukrainians than they've seen previously with other waves of humanitarian parole.
Although faded from months of sun damage, blue and yellow Ukrainian flags on lawns, public buildings, and flagpoles remain a bold symbol of support around Connecticut.
And the community support is truly tangible.
Church communities, local volunteer programs, and individuals across the state have held fundraisers, benefit concerts, advocacy events, vendor fairs, and donation drives.
"I still see people put their Ukrainian flags up, I love that," said Susan Helms, who has been supporting a Ukrainian family through U4U sponsorship since August. "A lot of people will give money, even people who are not rich. They’ve been generous."
"We are definitely getting different organizations reaching out to us and expressing their willingness to help Ukrainians pro-bono," said Serhii Skrypniuk, a U4U parolee who is now working as in interpretor for IRIS.
These efforts have been supplementing the work of state programs and non-profit resettlement agencies as they navigate the still-evolving Uniting for Ukraine program.
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The lobby of resettlement agency IRIS, New Haven, CT
A Ukrainian flag hanging on a sign for Castle Hill Farm in Newtown, CT.
"There’s really this gap between us providing services and knowing who we should be reaching
- Tabitha Sookdeo