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Alaska welcomes its first Ukrainian refugees

About 50 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Alaska with the help of an organization that is paying for plane tickets to get them away from the Russian invasion.
Published: May. 20, 2022 at 6:46 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - About 50 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Alaska with the help of an organization that is paying for plane tickets to get them away from the Russian invasion of their country.

Anchorage Community Development Authority Executive Director Mike Robbins’ wife is from Ukraine, and said he was moved to do more for the Anchorage-based New Chance Inc. Ukrainian Relief Program when he heard a story about a Ukrainian woman who gave up five seats on a flight that was scheduled to bring her family to Alaska.

“One of the volunteers called someone and the woman said, ‘well I don’t think I’m going to come,’ and she said ‘do you mind if I ask why’ and she said, ‘well, because my sons are dead.”’

Robbins was moved by the story of loss from residents in the war-torn country.

“Basically she said she she didn’t have anything to live for,” Robbins said. “That was the day I really decided that I just wasn’t doing enough.”

As the volunteer Financial Chair of the Relief Program, Robbins has helped raise $750,000, including two $150,000 donations from the Rasmuson Foundation and Weidner Apartment Homes.

The original plan was to use the money to bring 600 Ukrainians to Alaska on three chartered jets, but a change at the federal level blocked the plan. However, Robbins said the funding will go much further on commercial flights.

“The benefit of it is, while we don’t have this big group coming in all at once, we are actually going to be able to bring more people, because the cost is, right now, it’s less than a third of the cost per person of the charter flights,” Robbins said.

The Ukraine Relief Program website is helping to match Ukrainians with jobs and housing all over the state. Robbins said dozens of employers have promised to hire Ukrainians when they arrive.

Robbins said most of the new arrivals have ties to Alaska and are staying with families, but they are also looking for people willing to sponsor refugees. That process is explained on the New Chance Inc. relief program website as well as other volunteer opportunities for people who want to help.

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