PARMA — Former Sidney Mayor and Association of Ohio Mayors President Mike Barhorst attended the Ohio Summit on Ukrainian Refugees Thursday, March 17. The Ohio Summit on Ukrainian Refugees was called by Governor Mike DeWine. It was held at Saint Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Parma, Ohio.
Parma was the ideal location for the summit. The greater Cleveland area currently has a large Ukrainian population numbering more than 40,000. The summit was extensively covered by the electronic media, and the participants more than filled St. Vladimir’s Grand Hall.
“When I first arrived, Bishop Edward Malesic told me ‘I wish you weren’t here!’” Gov. Mike DeWine said as he began his remarks, said a city of Sidney press release. “Quite frankly, I wish there was no need to be here. The inhumanity of this situation is beyond words. We simply must resolve to help the people of Ukraine in any way we can.”
The governor suggested two charities. They included World Central Kitchen and Aid to Ukraine. “Fran and I have contributed to both,” he told his audience, the release said. “They are doing great work.”
In addition to the governor, the two-hour meeting included a number of other speakers. Those speakers included Caryn Candisky, who accompanied Sen. Rob Portman to the Ukrainian — Poland border recently, and Ohio Department of Job and Family Services State Refugee Coordinator Jennifer Johnson. They provided both the federal and state perspective on the current crisis.
A panel discussion that provided a glimpse of the refugee resettlement process included Darren T. Hamm U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants Director, Elisia Hersh, US Together Programs Manager, and Heath Rosenberger, program director for Cleveland Catholic Charities Office of Migration and Refugee Services. Each member of the panel gave powerful testimony to their experiences over the course of their careers, and what organizations attempting to assist the Ukrainian refugees might expect to face.
A second panel discussed the refugee experience. That panel included Joe Cimperman, Global Cleveland President, Marta Kelleher, United Ukrainian Organizations of Ohio President, and Bakht Zaman Moqbel, a case manager for U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.
Moqbel, himself a refugee from Afghanistan, spoke about leaving his native land with little more than his immediate family and the clothes on his back.
“They came for us in the middle of the night and simply said, ‘It is no longer safe for you here,’ loaded us on a plane and in hours, we were in the United States. Most of the Ukrainians will come with little more than my family had,” Moqbel said in the release.
“I had the opportunity to sit at a table with several members of the local Ukrainian community,” Barhorst said in the release. They included Dr. Tatiana Panas, a psychology professor at Bowling Green State University Firelands Campus and Father Dmitri Belenki, a priest who serves Saint Marys Ukrainian Orthodox Church, one of five Ukrainian Catholic churches in the Cleveland area.”
Some of the information that Barhorst brought back with him has already been shared with the Association of Ohio Mayors as well as Sidney’s City Manager Andrew Bowsher. That information includes:
1) None of the Ukrainian refugees who have fled Ukraine have been given refugee status in the United States; as a result, they are not being allowed to enter our country;
2) Refugee status would grant immediate aid, including financial aid; without that status, there is no federal aid provided refugees;
3) Refugee status would require that they surrender their passport, something many Ukrainian citizens may not be willing to do;
4) Many of the refugees have suffered tremendous psychological shock due to the war and their displacement, and will need ongoing, intensive counseling and mentoring;
5) Nearly every family unit will be multi-generational, but few will have an adult male presence, as the men have remained behind to fight for their country;
6) Most of the Ukrainians will have lost everything with the exception of the clothes on their backs and, in addition to clothing, will need food, shelter, furniture and appliances when they arrive for resettlement;
7) Ukrainians are hard-working and freedom-loving people; they will want to support themselves;
8) That said, many of them may lack the skills necessary for immediate employment (as but one example, there will be little demand for Ukrainian attorneys in the United States; that individual may need to learn to be a welder or machinist, a nurse or a custodian);
9) Communities who want to host Ukrainian refugees need to be welcoming, immigrant friendly;
10) Communities open to welcoming Ukrainian refugees need to have established resources, with organizations that can provide the humanitarian needs necessary to support the refugees;
11) Most of them will want to return “home” but because rebuilding Ukraine will take years, most will likely always remain in the United States; and,
12) Any community desiring to assist would need to be able to provide:
a. Housing for at least six months;
b. Employment opportunities;
c. The opportunity to obtain English language proficiency;
d. Educational and child care opportunities for children, many of them small; and,
e. Access to mass transportation.
“The situation in the Ukraine is heartbreaking,” Barhorst said. “I never thought that I would see heads of state in the 21st Century attempt to govern as though it was the 15th Century.”