State and resettlement groups help Ukrainians in Oregon

About 4,500 Ukrainians have arrived in Oregon since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, upending their lives and forcing them to flee the danger and chaos of their homeland.

Nearly two years later, government agencies, resettlement organizations and community groups have banded together to help Ukrainians settle into a new life in Oregon. To help accomplish that task, the Oregon Department of Human Services Refugee Program is accepting applications from community agencies for part of $2.25 million in federal funding to help Ukrainians arriving in Oregon with housing, employment assistance, health care and legal assistance.

The state administers cash and medical benefits to people arriving from Ukraine and other nations, including Afghanistan, through the Oregon Department of Human Services Refugee Program.

Ukrainians arrive through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, part of the U.S. Department of State. The federal agency contracts with national non-profit organizations called resettlement agencies. In Oregon, there are six resettlement agencies: Catholic Charities of OregonCatholic Community Services of Lane CountyImmigrant and Refugee Community OrganizationLutheran Community Services NorthwestSalem For Refugees and Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees.

At Salem For Refugees, Ukrainian navigator Kseniia Hnatovska said her organization has helped nearly 400 Ukrainians settle in Salem and the surrounding area, including Keizer and Albany. 

Hnatovska arrived in Oregon in March 2022, after her city of Kharkiv near the Russian border was bombed and her family stayed in the cellar for shelter. Relatives in the United States helped her get to Oregon, she said. 

“It was horrible, because we had a great life and then suddenly, the war began,” she said. 

Besides the potential grant money, officials at Salem For Refugees appreciate local help, like volunteers who provide transportation and donations of hygiene supplies. Hnatovska helps people with tasks like learning how to find work and access health care. 

Many Ukrainian refugees arrive in Oregon with little. Most do not have a lot of savings, and the exchange rate for the U.S. dollar is low, Hnatovska said. It now takes about 36 hryvnias, the Ukrainian currency, to buy one dollar.  

“In Ukraine, $20 is pretty good money,” Hnatovska said in an interview with the Capital Chronicle. “Here, it’s nothing. Even if you come here with $3,000, you can spend it in less than one month.”

Because of the cost of living in Oregon, people share apartments and houses to save money, giving up the independence they had in Ukraine, Hnatovska said.

Just under half, $1 million, of the grant is designated for housing assistance. The remaining includes $500,000 for employment services, $300,000 for health and mental health programs, $300,000 for legal services and $75,000 for services to help senior citizens. The deadline to apply is Nov. 24.

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Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report. Botkin has won multiple journalism awards for his investigative and enterprise reporting, including on education, state budgets and criminal justice.