A Fundraiser to Get Dmytro’s Family Out of Ukraine and Resettled in Minneapolis by Christmas.

Thanks for helping!

“I couldn’t have done it without you.” In this case, that’s literally true. Although I agreed to sponsor Dmytro’s family (see the story below), we don’t have an extra $15,000 lying around to help his family get established once he gets here. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service requires potential sponsors to show that they have the means to support families entering the U.S. under the Uniting for Ukraine program. When I complete the i134 sponsorship form, I’ll be able to point to the money we’ve raised.

You can donate by check or electronically by following the directions below. Or you can read more about Dmytro’s story or check out all the questions people keep asking me.

Thank you again—truly.

Jerry Windley-Daoust

The Winona Sheltering Network, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, will be processing donations for the family. That means your donation is tax-deductible; you will receive an emailed receipt that you can save for that purpose. Funds raised will help pay for housing, transportation, food, and other household expenses during the family’s first four months. Any funds remaining after this period will be given to the family to help them save for the next stage of their American journey.

To make a donation online, use the Zeffy form below. If you prefer to send a check, make checks payable to Winona Sheltering Network and write “Ukrainian Resettlement Fund” on the memo line. Mail to: Jerry Windley-Daoust, 664 Winona St., Winona, MN 55987.

Please note: Zeffy “suggests” a 15% tip to help it cover the costs of running its free fundraising platform. You can change or zero out this fee under the “Confirm Your Donation” heading.

Dmytro’s Story

Dmytro is a 33-year-old living in Kyiv; his 53-year-old mother and 19-year-old brother, who is developmentally disabled, live in the nearby town of Vasylkiv, which also hosts the Vasylkiv Air Base. After the war started, his brother stopped receiving the level of medical care he requires…and shortly after that, his mother became deeply depressed.

Determined to get out, Dmytro began sending cold-call e-mails to various U.S.-based organizations. That’s how he came to e-mail me, since I’ve been maintaining and operating CatholicWorker.org for the past year.

The Letter

Here’s the e-mail I received from Dmytro on May 30. Dmytro is a minor celebrity in Ukraine with nearly 60,000 followers on social media, so until he and his family are safely out of the country, we’re striving to keep a low profile. I’ve redacted the names of his family members:

Hello! My name is Dmytro, I am Ukrainian and currently in Ukraine. I am looking for protection for my family of three people from the Russian terror here.

We are two brothers and mother. I am the elder brother and also the head of the family, I am 33 years old. My younger brother is A—-, he is 19 years old. He is a special boy, autistic, and has a disability. I am his guardian. And our mom — S—-, 53 years old.

No matter what, we are a positive family and love life very much.

We live in Vasylkiv nearby to Kyiv and we have been in Ukraine since the war began till today. There is a military base in our town, so we are always in a zone of increased danger to life.  In recent days, Russia has been bombing Kyiv particularly hard and we can’t take it anymore.

The situation for our family is complicated by the fact that hospitals for mental health treatment are already full of shell-shocked soldiers and people like my brother have become a non-priority for doctors. He is not receiving medication and proper care. So we see he became be worse every day.

We hope to come to the United States by Uniting for Ukraine program, which provides protection for Ukrainian refugees. Unfortunately, we have no relatives or friends in your country, so we are appealing to you and your open hearts. We are looking for a person who would agree to become a sponsor in the Uniting for Ukraine program. To do this, this person just need to fill the online form https://www.uscis.gov/i-134a. This will be our invitation to the country. More details can be found here: https://www.dhs.gov/ukraine or on the website of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

We are already ready to go. We want to move to the United States to escape the war and provide decent and professional care for A—- before it’s too late. We are open-minded people and will be happy to get to know the sponsor better via video and answer for all questions. I look forward to hearing from you.

With an open heart, Dmytro from Ukraine.

After receiving this letter, I approached our local resettlement group (the Winona Sheltering Network, which is where I have been helping Afghan refugees for the past two years). We did a long Zoom call with Dmytro, but the local group ultimately decided against sponsoring (we’re already helping nearly three dozen refugees, and we’re an all-volunteer organization).

That launched a two-month-long search for another sponsor, either an individual or a group. After pursuing leads in the Twin Cities and Chicago, and waiting two weeks while a St. Paul group discerned the decision, I eventually ran out of places to ask. Rather than tell Dmytro that he was out of luck (“Sorry, America’s closed!”), I decided to sponsor the family myself.

I hadn’t wanted to go this route at first because I am already, frankly, more than maxed out with people I’m helping. (Not a boast…it’s kind of an issue.) Plus, USCIS requires sponsors to show that they could support the immigrants, if push came to shove. Meeting that requirement would mean running a fundraiser (and here we are).

But with a Little Help…

During the sponsor search, we met with a sponsor guide at ALIGHT (formerly American Refugee Committee) twice. ALIGHT doesn’t sponsor refugees and it isn’t a resettlement agency, but it provides a lot of support to private sponsor groups. I wish we’d had such great support when we started hosting our Afghan refugees.

This means that I have a wonderful sponsor guide from ALIGHT…a young woman who is herself a Ukrainian refugee, which is helpful because it means she speaks the language and can provide assistance from the perspective of the refugees. ALIGHT will be helping with airfare costs and 30 days of AirBnB for the family; more importantly, they will connect me to state and local resources, and help me navigate the labyrinth that is the USCIS immigration process.

When I agreed to sponsor Dmytro’s family, I did so on the condition that I would get him here, but that I would be unable to help him on the ground once he got here. (I no longer drive, and they will be in the Cities.) Ana, our sponsor guide, strongly suggested finding local volunteers to help the family out, though, so I reached out on Facebook and found six people who are willing to provide some limited “hand holding.”

On top of that, a handful of people in our local group signed up to help me with the avalanche of paperwork that will need to be processed in the weeks after the family’s arrival.

A Tentative Timeline

USCIS is notoriously fickle, but here is a rough timeline for bringing the family to Minneapolis:

Fundraising goal met by September 15?

USCIS Form i134 sponsorship paperwork submitted within one week of fundraising goal being met….September 21?

Sponsor approval takes 3-8 weeks: October 15 – November 25?

Travel authorization received within 24 hours in most cases.

Travel must occur within 90 days. Usually, travel occurs 2 – 4 weeks after travel authorization is received due to airfare prices.

Likely arrival window: November 1 – December 25.

A Eesettlement Checklist

Here are just a few of the things that will need to happen in the first week after the family arrives (these are from Alight’s sponsor guide manual):

  • Prioritize the application to assistance programs (ie. Matching Grant Program (MGP), Refugee Cash Assistance) among others.  
  • Apply for assistance programs (ie. Matching Grant Program, Refugee Cash Assistance, etc) as soon as possible.
  • Apply for Social Security Card and employment authorization documents.
  • Print important and required forms, such as I-94 via the US Customs and Border Protection website.
  • Submit change of address with the Department of Homeland Security and US Postal Service.
  • Find and connect with qualified legal assistance to ascertain future immigration options.
  • Discuss starting a household budget template for newcomers to use once they are independent.
  • Discuss short- and long-term employment goals and brainstorm helpful mentors and workforce resources that can be beneficial.
  • Any acute healthcare requirement needs to be addressed first, by making necessary appointments or finding access to prescription refills (and discount pharmacy programs if applicable).
  • Schedule mandatory health screening for Tuberculosis required by the Uniting for Ukraine program.
  • Schedule a refugee health assessment: A refugee health assessment is a special medical appointment for people that are newly arrived to the United States. The Minnesota Department of Health’s Refugee Health Program trains health care providers to provide the best care possible to newcomers. If you are not located in Minnesota, please work with your Alight Sponsor Guide to address health care questions.
  • Enroll in public benefits and services, such as Medicaid or Refugee Medical Assistance (see Medicaid Beneficiary Resources), SNAP and others. 
  • Establish care with a primary care provider who can build a relationship with the client. This may be the same person who did the refugee health screening but does not have to be.
  • Schedule physicals, as applicable, for care that is not covered through general health screenings such as pap smears and developmental screenings.
  • Discuss short- and long-term educational goals and make a plan for next steps.
  • Discuss clothing, footwear and other basic necessities that the family may be missing.
  • Go to an affordable and easy to access grocery store together that newcomers can feel comfortable returning to later on their own when they are ready.
  • Make a plan for transportation as the upcoming weeks may involve a lot of moving to/from appointments, groceries, supply shopping, etc.  This is the moment to call in the volunteers you may have recruited! You can also ride public transportation together of course. Make sure you plan in advance for important legal and medical appointments.
  • Discuss the need for a phone and/or SIM card. 

That’s just the list for the first week!

The takeaway here: Our role for the first few weeks will be to help the family navigate all the paperwork and processes needed to help them get settled. Then, we’ll tackle the difficult task of finding more permanent housing (in a market that is tough even for well-off Americans) and work that pays enough to make them more or less independent. Our hope and expectation is that the family will be largely independent within three months of arriving. This is a typical expectation in refugee resettlement circles, even if it can be unrealistic for certain classes of refugees. In this case, though, we have a well-educated, western adult who speaks and reads English at a functional level, which is going to make a huge difference.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, because his brother has been legally declared disabled. Dmytro is his legal guardian.

Yes. You will receive a tax receipt by email immediately after donating. If you mail a check be sure to make it out to Winona Sheltering Network; I will send you a receipt.

Based on the tentative budget we created as well as guidance from ALIGHT and other ALIGHT-affiliated sponsor groups resettling Ukrainians in Minnesota, we feel raising $10,000 would be prudent, and raising $15,000 would be ideal. Any funds remaining after the family is financially and practically independent will be given to the family to help them get other items they might need to begin life in America, such as a car. Jerry will not be able to sign the i134 paperwork until we’ve raised at least $10,000. Let’s get this done quickly!

Always. “Many hands make light work” and all that. If you want to help make phone calls or search for housing or take the family to an appointment, please contact Jerry at windleydaoust@gmail.com.