Finding Refuge

Judith Lang Journalism Award – Journalism

Kristen May

Traverse City Central High School – 11th Grade

When one looks into the Traverse City community, they will find a blend of many
different cultures. The war in Ukraine has increased the amount of Ukrainian refugees seeking sanctuary in Traverse City. Whether they’re a transfer student or someone who came here to get away from the war, there is a much larger Ukrainian community than there used to be.
If you’re a Ukrainian living in Traverse City, it’s nice to know that you’re not alone and that there are others who may be experiencing the same emotions that you are. Dmytro P., a Ukrainian who came to Traverse City, says that, “Half of my time [I go to] Ukrainian church and [the] other time Living Hope. I like the people. I like how they do service. It’s more like [a] Ukrainian church here.” Going to church can give Ukrainians a sense of familiarity, which can make their transition to our city easier. Diana Y., another Ukrainian residing in Traverse City, also enjoys attending church. “I [go] to church and work groups.” Being separated from your friends and family back home is hard when you’re hours away, and it’s so much worse when there are thousands of miles between you. “[I’m] usually [able to talk to them] once or twice a month…[sometimes I] become really worried, it’s two weeks gone and I can’t get ahold of them, and at the same time I try to tell myself that they don’t have power, everything’s good,” Ukrainian exchange student Anastasiia Hrukach ‘23 explains. There’s always a fear lurking in the back of your mind that is constantly asking, are they okay, are they safe, are they alive? For Hrukach, it’s a constant struggle, but with the support of friends and family, she’s not letting it overwhelm her. “I’ve lived with my second host family for more than a year now. I just love them,” Hrukach comments. “They never had kids, but we became like a real family and I became their daughter. I feel really comfortable about them, and they’ve helped me so much.”

It’s been over a year since the war in Ukraine started, and there are still so many questions. What’s happening over there, why is this happening, and most importantly, when will this horrific event end? The war has had a large and overreaching effect on so many parts of the world, even here in Traverse City. The Ukrainian community has been hit hard by the war, and it’s impossible to know where to go from here, but they’re not alone in their struggle. Traverse City’s community is supporting them every chance they get and are finding ways to make their lives easier. One example is a bike ride called Ride for Peace, which “hit the trails to raise money for the World Central Kitchen…they’ve raised close to $3,000 for the World Central Kitchen who’s been feeding Ukrainian refugees since the start of the war,” according to 9&10 News. The events aren’t only good to raise money; they’re also a great opportunity to meet new people and form long-lasting friendships.
Even nationally-based organizations have stepped in to help. Bethany Christian Services is a “global nonprofit that supports children and families with world-class social services, all designed to help families thrive, who also has been involved with Ukrainian refugees,” according to the Bethany Christian Services website. They’re helping with the Ukrainian refugee crisis by providing support to Ukrainian refugees arriving in the US, whether that support comes as food, shelter, transportation, access to medical care, or any of the other dozen ways they’re providing help. Allie Burritt, the Refugee Site Supervisor at Bethany Christian Services in Traverse City, notes that “we have three different programs that work with refugees and immigrant…we’re working with people coming through the program called Uniting for Ukraine…then we have our refugee resettlement program which is for people who are also from Ukraine but they come with legal refugee status. They have a pathway to get to citizenship after five years.” There are many ways for refugees to get to the United States, but even so, it’s a struggle. Even if they manage to get to the U.S., they still have to find a place to stay, a job, etc. “Housing is very difficult to come by in Traverse and it’s also very expensive. Transportation is really challenging too, they’re relying on family members,” Burritt points out. There’s also an aspect of responsibility that falls to the people refugees are staying with. “The people coming through Uniting for Ukraine need to have a sponsor, someone who will care for them during the time that they’re here. So a lot of this is relying on Ukrainian family members who themselves were refugees only a few years ago.”

The future of Ukraine may be uncertain, but with the warm and welcoming community of Traverse City, Ukrainians are able to settle into a new home.