Ukrainian refugees, while predominantly fleeing to Poland and other nearby European countries such as Romania and Hungary, have also begun to enter the United States by way of Tijuana.
Since February, over 4.5 million refugees have reportedly left their homes, and another 6.5 million have been displaced within Ukraine. So far, over 2,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Tijuana, the largest border city in Mexico. Of these refugees, about 40% are children.
Joe Biden has already stated that the U.S. would admit 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, thus requiring the displaced people to apply for entry while waiting outside the country.
Ukrainians wait in Tijuana for approximately two to four days for US officials to admit them on humanitarian parole, which gives them an entry visa that allows them to stay in the U.S. temporarily.
Refugees are being assisted by a dedicated group of volunteers, many of whom are from Slavic churches and Ukrainian communities in the western U.S. These volunteers are helping to organize the refugees and streamline the entry process by keeping a list of those who arrive at the Tijuana International Airport and assigning them a number that corresponds to their turn to cross the border.
One woman from Mission Viejo, Inna Levien, has been volunteering at the border and is impressed with the organization of the operation. She said, “The list has been very honest. I’m surprised how organized it is.”
The volunteers are collaborating with local police and government officials, while also helping to provide food, clothing, and transportation to a makeshift shelter from the airport. On Friday, at least 700 Ukrainians were counted at the makeshift encampment.
“Our tasks here is to keep people organized, warm, give them food and water,” explained Arthur Popov, a pastor from the Light to the World Church in Sacramento.
“Families cannot be divided,” he added. “The U.S. officers are giving them a one-year parole, with a work authorization.”
Watch: Footage of Ukrainian refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border
Approximately 500 people are staying in hotels, while others must wait outside near the border gate for their turn to enter the U.S.
So many Ukrainians are now in Tijuana that the city’s government has decided to turn a sports arena into a makeshift shelter. It is estimated that over 800 Ukrainians are staying at this arena. Portable toilets and bunk beds have been sent to the shelter, as well as stations from nonprofits that provide food for the refugees.
One Ukrainian refugee, Yevhen Shyshkin, expressed his surprise with the conditions at the border, and how helpful the volunteers are.
“I’m really surprised by how people are helping us here,” said Shyshkin. “The conditions of the shelter are perfect. The most impressive thing is how Mexicans and Americans are trying to help us, how everybody wants to offer assistance somehow.”
Social media posts continue to draw Ukrainian refugees to the border with hopes of entering the United States. One refugee, Serhii Kartavykh, left Lviv with his mother and, after seeing an Instagram post from a friend about the U.S. opening its border, he decided to make the journey.
More Ukrainians are expected to travel to the U.S. by way of Mexico as social media continues to spread the news of the organized, relatively smooth process.