Sponsor a child

Grassroots sponsorships bring Ukrainian war refugees to Wisconsin

Tatyana Lukash said her life was turned upside down in February when Russia invaded Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and the home of Lukash, her husband and teenage son.

“We had a decent life. We had everything we needed. We’re alive and God is bringing us here (to Wisconsin). We’re going to try,” she said.

Lukash and her 15-year-old son went to Poland in March and she spent months looking for a more stable living situation.

Her 45-year-old husband, a now unemployed welder, had to stay in Ukraine because he is still eligible to be drafted into the Ukrainian army.

Lukash connected on Facebook with Gary Coryell and his wife, who live on a hobby farm in northern La Crosse County.

The Lukashes are the second Ukrainian family sponsored by Coryell. A mother and daughter lived with them for about six weeks this summer before moving to Texas for work before Lukash and her son moved in with them in mid-October.

“Bringing these people into our home gave me a passion and purpose that I hadn’t felt in many years,” Coryell said. “These people are in danger, especially mothers and children. Open your homes and your hearts, and you won’t regret it.”

Coryell used the feds United for Ukraine program that was created at the end of April to allow Ukrainian refugees to live in the United States with a sponsor.

The sponsors help the refugees to complete the documents proving that they benefit from some form of financial support. The federal government then conducts background checks on the refugees.

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Coryell said they paid for the plane tickets to bring Lukash and his son to the United States. They also provided them with housing, food, clothing, transportation, and assistance in applying for government services like food stamps. They also helped enroll her son in school.

Coryell said his family relies on friends to help provide support.

It is difficult to quantify the number of Ukrainian residents who have resettled in Wisconsin since February. The US State Department did not respond to a request from Wisconsin Public Radio for a count of the number of refugees who have been sponsored to come to the state. A CBS report in September, said Wisconsin was not among the top 10 destination states for Ukrainian refugees.

Refugees can be sponsored in several ways: privately, as Coryell’s family did, or through organizations known as Welcome Circles.

The La Crosse Welcome Circleor LWC, brought his first two families from Ukraine to Wisconsin in early November.

LWC member Rabbi Brian Serle said there are similar programs to sponsor Ukrainian refugees in the Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire and Fox Valley areas. The organization’s goal is to help resettle a dozen Ukrainian families.

Lukash worked as a translator for most of her life. Although she feels safe in rural Wisconsin, she said she won’t feel complete until she finds her husband. She said communication is difficult now because of power cuts in Ukraine.

Lukash would like to find a way to start over in America, as it could be years before war-torn Ukraine is rebuilt. The Biden administration has given Ukrainian refugees a two-year stay in the United Statesbut it remains to be seen whether additional time will be granted.

“I would like to become independent as soon as possible. It could be as a translator, or I would like to work in social services to help others,” Lukash said. “I love my country. I love my people, but everything works here. It’s different in a lot of other places. I really appreciate what I’ve been given here.”

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