FLORIDA, USA — As the war wages on in Ukraine, tens of thousands are trying to flee as refugees. The United States allows Ukrainians to come to the United States, but they need a U.S. sponsor.
That's where Welcome.US comes in. The non-profit organization created a platform to connect Ukrainians seeking sponsors with U.S. residents looking to help.
"We're looking for Americans to raise their hand and step up to help be that lifeline to Ukrainian who is so urgently needing safety," Anya McMurray, the President/COO of Welcome.US, said.
The organization says more than 175,000 Americans signed up to sponsor Ukrainians to come to the U.S. Approximately 11,500 of those sponsors are here in Florida.
But, there is still a big need for sponsors because nearly 20,000 Ukrainians are on Welcome Connect's waiting list, hoping to find sponsorship in the United States.
"When Russia began its war of aggression on Ukraine, my husband and I wanted to find a way to help displaced and suffering Ukrainians. And we didn't know how," Elizabeth Langland said.
Langland lives in St. Augustine and has sponsored refugees from Afghanistan. As the war waged on in Ukraine, she felt a call to help.
"When I went to that website, I wanted to sponsor everyone," Langland said. "Well, that wasn't possible. But we did read about Gregory and his family, the two sisters, each with a child, the four who would be coming to the United States, if they found a sponsor, while their husbands remained in Ukraine as part of the Territorial Defense army."
Langland said reading their story made her decision easy. She welcomed two sisters and their children to Florida three months ago. In preparation, Langland secured a townhome for them, fully furnishing it and stocking the pantry.
"From the moment we saw them come out of the gate at the airport," Langland said. "We were just in each other's arms. It had been such a long journey for them. They unfurl the Ukrainian flag, we hugged each other, and that immediate connection has stayed. And all I can say is, whatever we have given, we have gotten back tenfold."
There are ways to help the people of Ukraine, big and small. Welcome.US also accepts donations to help buy the essentials for families seeking refuge in the U.S.
"Well, we also have a program called Welcome Essentials, where people can donate money, that then helps newcomers cover those very kinds of expenses to help them purchase beds and kitchenware, and all of the things you need to fill an apartment," McMurray said.
To learn more about Welcome.US and its program, Welcome Connect, on how it helps the people of Ukraine, click here.