President Biden announced on April 21 to begin bringing Ukrainians fleeing war to the U.S., addressing the promise the president made nearly a month ago to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.
He said, “The new humanitarian parole program will complement the existing legal pathway available to Ukrainians. It will provide an expedient channel for secure, legal immigration from Europe to the United States for Ukrainians who have a U.S. sponsor.”
In a press release, the Department of Homeland Security called it a streamlined process. An online portal was set up for April 25 to upload documents as part of the process.
There’s only one problem with the announcement. Joe Biden has already brought 100,000 Ukrainian refugees into the United States through a fast-track lane on the U.S. border as efficient as global entry which is sending signals to all would-be refugees that everyone is welcome.
How is it possible that I know this to be a fact? Because over a decade ago, I went to Ukraine and that region to honor my great grandfather, Rabbi Michael Katznelson who was burned to death in a synagogue with 2,000 Jews. The late President of Israel, Shimon Peres, also knew the synagogue well. His grandfather was the cantor rabbi in the same synagogue.
On my trip, I met a wonderful pastor Viktor Metveyev. He was bringing food to impoverished Holocaust survivors and Jewish orphans. Viktor was my translator. But I began donating monthly to help Viktor. He became part of our team and has been doing this now for a decade in Ukraine.
When the war broke out, Viktor and his family went through living hell. Viktor’s parents were refugees from World War II. His grandmother was imprisoned and his mother was put in an orphanage. Viktor has a special heart of compassion. He was aware of my work, as I am the founder of the Corrie Ten Boom Holocaust Museum in Haarlem, Holland, and the Friends of Zion Heritage Center in Jerusalem. I’ve dedicated my life to combating antisemitism.
When the war broke out, Viktor’s house shook with explosions and flares. His wife and children were in a total state of panic.
After the attacks, they packed a small carry-on. They drove six hours west of Kyiv and stayed with friends and family in the west for 10 days until the bombing and the air raids become unbearable. Sometimes they were hearing air raid sirens all day long. They went through Moldova, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia to get to Poland.
I told Viktor that we needed to do everything humanly possible to get Jewish Holocaust survivors that we’ve been helping for more than a decade out and into Israel. We also needed to get food to their synagogues and the churches.
So many of them are starving in the war zones. Viktor began working around the clock doing just that. A minister in the Israeli government asked for my help and we were able to get a family of seven out by having a man ride his bicycle to Russian checkpoints to find a path out for the family.
As I’m writing to you, I’ve just helped a Holocaust survivor from Kharkiv out who told me, “I was born into war and I was going to die in a war. But I put my faith in God and you came.”
Because of the urgent need for food, I told Viktor that I needed him in Warsaw, Poland, to bring the food. We decided we needed to buy the food outside of Poland so we could get it a lot cheaper than shipping it in by truck through Warsaw. Viktor worked tirelessly on this project.
I flew in the first time after an event honoring former Vice President Mike Pence, with major evangelical leaders like Rev. Franklin Graham, Gov. Mike Huckabee, CBN President Gordon Robertson, TBN President Matthew Crouch, Pastor Jack Graham, Pastor Robert Morris, and Pastor Robert Jeffress. I flew into Ukraine to bring food and I’ve been back twice since.
The second trip was with 20 tons of food. This latest trip was with 40 tons of food. Viktor has been working around the clock, but I realized something about Viktor. He was a refugee. He had no place to live. I told Viktor to please find a place and I would pay for it.
Unfortunately, there are so many refugees in Poland that there was absolutely no place to find housing except in Auschwitz. He told me with great joy he had found a beautiful apartment that was perfect for his family in Auschwitz. I asked him, “How big is it?”
He said, “Two bedrooms.”
I said, “Viktor, that’s ridiculous. Your family is a large family. I’ve been with your family. They can’t live in two bedrooms. What about the kids?”
He said, “My older kids are in the U.S. in Florida.”
I said, “Viktor, how is that possible?”
He said, “They filled out a partial application with the U.S. Embassy in Poland but didn’t hear a thing back. Then the Slavic community in the U.S. started to buzz with excitement because Ukrainians were coming through Mexico to the Mexican border into the U.S. visa-free. At first, it was not clear how it was possible to come without a visa. Well, it was and it still is. We could not believe it. But it was true. The U.S. set up a special walkthrough-only corridor for Ukrainian citizens. No other international citizens were allowed in. Ukrainians would fly into Mexico City, then go on into Tijuana, which borders San Diego. All the Ukrainians needed to say was ‘humanitarian parole’ and to have a friend or relative contact written down on a piece of paper.
“They would get a stamp on their passport and off they go. As the weeks progressed,” Viktor said, “the stream of Ukrainian refugees turned into a flood. The Slavic church in the U.S. realized the danger of inexperienced Ukrainians traveling through Mexico, in light of the Mexican cartels, since so many were women and children. So the church volunteered to go to the major resort cities that Ukrainians flew to like Tijuana, picking up Ukrainians from bus stations and airports, and directing them to the border safely. Then they set up a line. The process became very simple, like taking a ticket in a line and knowing what time to show up at the border.
“Paul, 24, and Nika, 23, were ready to go. They flew to Mexico City. The demand for tickets was unbelievable. They stayed overnight at a local hotel and the next day flew to Tijuana and got a number at the border. They went to their hotel, stayed overnight, and at lunchtime showed up at the border. When their turn came up, they came into a big room with 50 other people.
“My son counted at least 65 cameras in that room. The officers were very nice and cordial. It took less than five minutes and they were out of there, into the San Diego by morning at 6 a.m. By the time they came, the rough estimate is there had been over 80,000 Ukrainians that had already come to the United States. The volunteers on the U.S. side asked people where they wanted to go and got them a taxi, so my kids and two other people got a taxi to the airport to fly to Florida, and the rest is history,” Viktor said.
To help and to get involved with our efforts to help in Ukraine, visit UkraineHelp.com.