More than 300 Ukrainians have settled in St. Louis since Russian invasion

Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 5:51 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, more than 300 Ukrainians have resettled in St. Louis. More are waiting to come, but there’s a shortage of sponsors.

Kathleen Benckendorf and her husband are one of the families that have opened their homes to Ukrainians fleeing their war-torn country. So far, they’ve hosted six immigrants.

“As soon as they announced the Uniting for Ukraine program we pretty much looked at each other and said ‘hey we can do this, we have space.’ And so we jumped in pretty early to do so,” Benckendorf said.

The Benckendorfs have six children, four of whom were adopted and they’ve hosted foreign exchange students. She said a full house is the norm for her.

Currently, there are four people staying at her house, a father and his two young adult sons and 45-year-old Volodyomyr Voronin. Voronin said he was very grateful the Benckendorfs stepped up to help.

He decided to leave Ukraine after there were explosions near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

“I take my ex-wife and daughter and drove to Europe,” said Voronin.

He’s been in the U.S. since October. Voronin said he’s anxious to get a job in construction and get out on his own. But first, he has to finish the slow process of getting a Social Security number and a work permit.

Benckendorf said she signed up to be a sponsor with an organization called North America for Ukraine. She said the group screens immigrants and sponsors to make the best matches for both. She is encouraging other families in the area to sign up to host immigrants.

Charleen Shakman is hosting two Ukrainian young women, but the situation is very different. She’s known them since they were young children.

“When we heard what happened our first instinct was to get on WhatsApp to all our Ukrainians and say how can we help,” said Shakman.

21-year-old Vicktoria Nozdrachova and her younger sister arrived in the U.S. on August 17 and are staying with the Shakmans.

“I’m really happy to be here,” said Nozdrachova.

Shakman said she met Nozdrachova’s father while she was serving in the Army in Iraq in 2003 because her responsibilities required her to work with forces in the international coalition. She said Nozdrachova’s father served in the Ukrainian military and was part of the coalition. She said their families have been friends for years.

Shakman said she also visited Ukraine to serve as an international election observer. According to Shakman, the girls’ parents are serving in the war against Russia.

“As a parent who has fought a war I can’t even imagine how their parents are feeling, with the fate of their country hanging in the balance and their children half a world away,” said Shakman.

Shakman is forming a nonprofit organization focused on providing necessities to Ukrainian immigrants. She invited any recent immigrants from Ukraine who need help to reach out to her through her email, stlhelps@sharewithukraine.org, and she’ll work to find the resources they need.