Viktoriia Stelmashchuk, 36, with her 4-year-old daughter, Marharyta. Viktoriia broke both...

Viktoriia Stelmashchuk, 36, with her 4-year-old daughter, Marharyta. Viktoriia broke both her knees while fleeing war-torn Ukraine. Her mother-in-law would like them to come to New York. Credit: Nataliia Akinina

Fleeing into neighboring Poland soon after Russia invaded Ukraine, Viktoriia Stelmashchuk was holding her 4-year-old daughter, Marharyta, when the mom fell and broke both her knees.

Now Stelmashchuk’s mother-in-law, Nataliia Akinina, who works as a caregiver in Lynbrook, wants to bring Viktoriia and Marharyta to the United States to help Viktoriia recuperate — far away from the chaos — in New York.

“It’s not safe in Ukraine. In Ukraine now, it’s war,” Akinina said, speaking on a WhatsApp call from the eastern Polish town of Minsk Mazowiecki. She traveled there to care for Stelmashchuk.

A bomb shelter located deep below a school in Kyiv,...

A bomb shelter located deep below a school in Kyiv, where the Stelmashchuk family fled in the days after Russia invaded Ukraine. Credit: Nataliia Akinina

Akinina, 58, a permanent U.S. resident, is among those trying to secure visas for those who had to flee their homes, as the Biden administration prepares to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees following the Feb. 24 Russian invasion of the country.

The federal policy hasn’t been finalized, and the government hasn’t said when formal resettlement would begin. Still, across the United States, including in New York and on Long Island, preparations are underway.

Since the invasion, more than 4 million people are estimated to have fled Ukraine, with millions more believed to have been displaced within the country itself, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Most have gone into Poland, and some to Romania, Moldova and even Russia.

Most Ukrainian refugees have stayed in Europe; the United States has accepted more than 500 since October 2021, according to Dylan Smith, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove). Figures from after the war began aren't available.

Between October and the end of February, 23 Ukrainian refugees resettled in New York, none in Nassau or Suffolk counties, according to Justin Mason, a spokesman for the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, the state agency coordinating services — such as housing, job placement, food stamps, welfare, medical care, mentors — for refugees.

Those numbers exclude those who came to the United States under other immigration terms, such as asylum, tourism or marriage.

The state hasn’t been told how many New York, or Long Island, might get. Ahead of whatever specifics the Biden administration announces, he said, the state is prepared to help those who arrive from Ukraine and welcome them into the country.

"With a storied history of providing safe harbor and refuge to those fleeing war-torn areas of the globe, New York State remains ready and willing to assist those displaced by the war in Ukraine, and eagerly await additional direction from the federal government regarding ways we can help ease their transition,” Mason said in an email.

His agency was involved with helping relocate and place 2,297 Afghans — including 47 on Long Island — who fled their homeland after the U.S. military pulled out of the country in August.

It’s not just the government that is hoping to help.

I would love to help Ukrainian refugees if they were permitted to immigrate to Long Island.

Marge Acosta, of Centerport

Marge Acosta, a retiree who lives in Centerport, said she would offer language lessons, bring meals and care for children as needed.

“I would love to help Ukrainian refugees if they were permitted to immigrate to Long Island,” she said, adding: “My heart goes out when I see the films of some of them lying on cement floors, in train stations or basements.

"We have so much here … And if anybody should be offering support to these refugees — since it’s their biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II — it should be America.”

Suozzi, who is helping Akinina and her family navigate the American immigration bureaucracy, said he wants the U.S. to welcome more than the 100,000 Biden plans to allow.

He lamented that current U.S. law is too restrictive, and he is trying to get the Biden administration to loosen the rules.

People are trying to get tourist visas to come over here to stay with their families while the war is hot, and because of a quirk in the law ... the State Department is denying those visas.

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove)

“People are trying to get tourist visas to come over here to stay with their families while the war is hot, and because of a quirk in the law, because they can’t guarantee that they’re gonna go home, because their homes have been bombed, or their hometowns have been bombed, the State Department is denying those visas, saying that we don’t know that you’ll go back home, and you might try and overstay their visas,” Suozzi said.

Still, he said, however many are eventually allowed to come to the U.S. and onto Long Island, it wouldn’t be a noticeable influx.

“I don’t think that people, as a rule, would really notice the impact,” Suozzi said. “You know, people who live here would not say, ‘Oh, boy, a lot of Ukrainians around here!’”

His office is handling nine cases, most involving Long Island families.

The State Department did not answer an email Friday afternoon seeking comment. 

Oleh N. Dekajlo, the local chapter president and legal counsel of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, said that nearly all of those who have been displaced are hoping to return to Ukraine when it’s safe, and most are staying in Europe, closer to home, if possible.

So, he said, he doesn’t expect an influx to the United States, particularly because men between 18 and 60 must stay in Ukraine to fight the Russians. Most of those who have fled — whether within the country, to elsewhere in Europe or beyond — are women, children, the elderly and those who are disabled.

“They’re not going to come to New York, or the United States, if they might have the opportunity to go back,” he said, adding: “It’s bad over there today, yes. But what’s gonna happen is, when the war is over or if peace actually prevails — people have farms, they have houses that have not been destroyed. Why would they give that up?”

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