Bay Area Families Have Trouble Getting Ukrainian Loved Ones to US

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According to the United Nations, nearly two million people have now fled the violence in Ukraine from Russia's invasion.

It's one of the largest number of refugees in the shortest amount of time ever. And while some of those people have started arriving in the Bay Area,  lots of others are having a difficult time getting here.

At least five more people landed at SFO Monday and all of them met family with looks of relief and exhaustion. 

But the U.S. government has not set up any special process for Ukrainian refugees and that has some U.S. residents frustrated.

Most of the people going through the gates at SFO already had visas of some kind to get here.

More Ukrainian refugees arrived at SFO Monday night with little idea of what their future holds and fearing for the lives of their relatives back home. Terry McSweeney reports.

And for people now trying to help their family members get to safety, dealing with U.S. immigration simply adds to the pain of the whole situation.

"They apply for tourist visa with intention to come back, and most of these people receive rejections,” said Vitalii Vashchuk. “And I think it's a very devastating experience."  

Vashchuk's mother, father, and sister are among the nearly two million Ukrainians who are trying to get away from the violence.

His family is currently in Poland and he's their only relative outside of Ukraine. So he's trying to get them to the United States.

"People left their houses, people left their job, people left their businesses, and they would like to go back to rebuild the country when it's safe," said Vashchuk.

Last week, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas granted temporary protected status to Ukrainians for 18 months. But that only applies to them if they were already in the United States before March 1. 

And the U.S. Refugee Program is still trying to bounce back from the steep cuts made by the Trump administration when only eight to 15 thousand refugees across the whole world were allowed to come here.

The Biden administration now allows 125,000.

"If we're going to help refugees get here eventually, from Ukraine, we're going to have to come up with one very big new number, or something very special in place for the Ukrainians," said Melanie Nathan, U.S. refugee expert. 

As the executive director of the African Human Rights Coalition, Nathan said that as we watch millions in Ukrainians escape the Russian invasion, millions more people in Africa have also fled other warzones. And violence and need shelter and aid as well.

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