A Hamptons pastry chef, a newlywed, and a father who won the Green Card Lottery: Meet the Ukrainians returning from America to fight for their country
MAccording to the latest UN figures, more than two million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes since Russia launched its full-scale attack on the country 13 days ago.
In what has become the fastest growing refugee crisis since the Second World War, women, children and men who are not of fighting age are crossing the border into neighboring countries – many of them they bring with them only the clothes they wear.
Poland has taken in around 1.2 million refugees so far, while some have traveled to support networks in other parts of Europe and the United States.
On Thursday, the Biden administration announced it would offer Temporary Protected Status to Ukrainians, which means thousands of people already living or studying temporarily in the United States can legally stay and work for 18 months rather than being forced to return to the war zone they used. call home.
US Census estimates reveal that about 350,000 Ukrainian immigrants currently live in the United States and that this ruling could apply to about 75,000 of that group.
The White House press secretary said the United States was willing to take in Ukrainian refugees and about $54 million was donated to help those displaced by the war.
But as evacuations out of Ukraine continue and the United States pledges to take action to support the refugees, a growing number of Ukrainians are choosing to go the opposite way instead, with many of them doing their farewells to their life in America to return home and fight for their country.
Since the start of the war, more than 140,000 Ukrainian citizens have returned to Ukraine to volunteer in the fight against Russian forces, the State Guard Border Service announced on Monday.
While it’s unclear how many of those who came from the United States, a pastry chef who worked in the Hamptons, a newlywed living in Chicago, and a father who moved to America to create a better life for his daughters are among those returning to Ukraine. .
The Hamptons Pastry Chef
A pastry chef who runs a cafe in an affluent Hamptons community in New York state swapped his chef’s whites for full body armor and crossed the border from Poland into Ukraine this week.
Kristofer Kalas, owner of Hello Oma in East Hampton, said CBS News he has no military experience but is willing to die for his daughter’s country.
“I want my child to have a Ukraine to go back to when she grows up,” he told the outlet as he walked along the border checkpoint dressed in full body armor.
Mr. Kalas is a US citizen who considers himself a Ukrainian by marriage after marrying a Ukrainian woman.
Before the war, the couple and their young daughter divided their time between New York and Ukraine.
Mr Kalas said the family was evacuated to Portugal where he left his wife and baby safe before returning to Ukraine alone.
“I am absolutely worried yes. But I’m more worried about the people there who can’t leave,” he said.
He added that Russia’s threat that foreign fighters would not be protected by “international humanitarian law” did not concern him, as Russia also ignored humanitarian law in its treatment of Ukrainian civilians.
“As far as I know, they don’t protect civilians under humanitarian law, so I don’t give much credence to what they say,” he said.
Mr. Kalas grew up and went to school in East Hampton, where many American rich and famous, including Alec Baldwin and Beyoncé, have homes.
After training as a private chef, Mr Kalas started producing his own chocolate before opening Hello Oma in the area near which he grew up, according to a 2019 profile from the local magazine. Edible East End.
His vision was for a café offering baked goods, homemade chocolate and handmade pizzas that focused on reducing waste.
Now he hopes not to engage in combat but to help defend Ukraine where he can.
The new bride
A Ukrainian-born bride who has lived in Chicago for two decades flew to Europe two days after her wedding to fight for her home country.
Maria married her husband David in a small ceremony in Oak Park on Saturday, where the 20 or so guests were asked to donate medical supplies and other essentials to take to Ukraine instead of more traditional wedding gifts .
On Monday, she plans to fly to Poland, before heading to the Ukrainian border where she will volunteer to fight for the country.
“I have to go. I can’t do protests or fundraisers or wave flags,” she told the Associated Press.
“We have been doing it since 2015, Ukrainians, and I can’t do it anymore.”
Her new husband, David, also plans to join her as soon as her passport is approved, as he said he wants to try to protect his wife and believes “complacency and conformity are about the same thing”.
“You can only turn a blind eye to people who have been bullied for so long. And if it happens to them, you might be next,” he said.
Maria grew up in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, until 1991, when her family moved to Poland.
She then moved to Austria to study music, where she met her Chicago-born ex-husband.
She said they moved to her hometown and she lived there for 20 years, staying there after their divorce.
Maria and David met last year and got engaged in October.
A local venue offered them a last-minute ceremony so they could get married before flying to Ukraine. It was a poignant date for their nuptials, marking her Ukrainian grandmother’s birthday.
Maria has no medical or military experience, but is determined to support her country in any way possible if she is denied combat.
The father who won the green card lottery
A Ukrainian father who moved to America to create a better life for his family after winning the Green Card Lottery said goodbye to his two daughters at Portland International Airport in Oregon on Thursday to fly to Ukraine .
Sergey Korenev said The Guardian that he had been closely monitoring Russia’s escalation on his country for months and had decided he had to return to help within hours of the full-scale attack launching.
“When it became an all-out invasion, I felt like I had to do something. I couldn’t watch it from afar,” he said.
The 44-year-old was heading first to New York to collect donations and supplies from the Ukrainian community, then to Poland to head for the border.
He planned to rescue his mother from her home near Kiev and evacuate her to safety in Poland before returning to join many of his friends who are already working as volunteers in the territorial defense force.
The father-of-two spent his last day in the country where they called home watching his youngest daughter Anna, 11, skateboard in a local park with her eldest daughter Maria, 17.
They then went with him to the airport where they had a tearful goodbye before their father boarded his plane – a small Ukrainian flag protruding from his backpack.
In 2014, Mr Korenev and his ex-wife Valentina started a foundation to help Ukrainians fighting in Donetsk.
Since moving to the United States, he has worked as a driver for Uber and Doordash and enjoyed the American craft beer scene, his brother said. The Guardian.
Despite winning the green card lottery, which means the US can now be his permanent home, the 44-year-old was determined to return to Ukraine when his country needed it. .
He said, “I’m going over there to help my friends, they’re my brothers in arms.”