Ukraine asylum seekers begin reaching Washington state

Yuliana Kelley calls the situation “absolutely terrifying.”

The part-time Seattle resident grew up in Mariupol, the Ukrainian port city under siege in the Russian invasion.

Her parents and brother are still there, and she hasn’t been able to reach them in more than a month.

“I don’t know if they’re alive or not. We’re trying our best to find them and evacuate them and evacuate all the other people we can,” Kelley said.

She’s a leader at a non-profit raising money for humanitarian relief, feeding people stuck in Ukraine basements and bomb shelters.

Some of Kelley’s other relatives made it to Kyiv, which is only a little safer.

“They’re deciding where to go, they don’t want to leave their country but at the same time they realize it isn’t safe there anymore,” she said.

As Ukrainian refugees move into other countries in Europe, some are making it to the United States.

Asylum seekers are increasingly flying to Tijuana and walking across the border from Mexico.

The executive director of Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest in Everett said more than 30 people have arrived in Snohomish County from Ukraine in the last couple of weeks.

“We know many more will start coming to the United States and we know they’re primarily coming for the moment to California and Washington,” said Rabbi Will Berkovitz, CEO of Jewish Family Service in Seattle, which works with refugees.

Berkovitz said although President Biden has pledged the U.S. will welcome up to a hundred thousand Ukrainian refugees, the system isn’t set up, and people fleeing the current war are not arriving with formal refugee protection.

“There’s no social safety net, the only thing they get is the ability to apply for work, but that’s a months-long process,” Berkovitz said.

Seattle-area Jewish organizations have launched a fundraising effort to help people fleeing the invasion.