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Hundreds of Ukrainians fleeing the war wait at US-Mexico border

Millions have fled Ukraine to seek safety and many families are ending up on our border KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado tells us a church in Chula Vista is helping them connect with their families in the U.S..

Tijuana is a long way from Ukraine. But this is where you’ll find hundreds of Ukrainians fleeing the ravages of war.

"In the epicenter of the war, just in the very epicenter, it is so terrible," said Valentina Shymanoyska.

She sobbed as she relived the horror her loved ones and community endured at the hands of the Russian military. She said some people were killed by bombs; others were tortured.


"They’re so horrible, they’re so ... We were very much afraid they would come for our children," she said.

She, her daughter and grandson fled to Western Europe and finally arrived at the U.S.-Mexico Border. A family member will pick them up once they’re processed. Others will find volunteers waiting to bring them to Calvary San Diego Church, located in Chula Vista. It has become a hub for Ukrainian families.

Matthew Bowler
Ukrainian war refugee children draw the word "Mexico" with a heart over it at the makeshift camp where they are waiting in Tijuana for the chance to apply for asylum in the United States, April 1, 2022.

All day long cars pull up with weary travelers. Serhii arrived at the church with his wife and four children.

"He said it’s really helpful," said a volunteer who translated for him.


"He can’t explain his words because he left within hours of a bombing, and he just grabbed the necessary things for a day or so, and the help they received is indescribable and his feelings are overwhelming," the translator said.

Matthew Bowler
Ukrainian war refugees turn a Tijuana bus stop into a make-shift camp to wait it for their turn to claim asylum in the United States, April 1 ,2022.

Oleg Musienko and his family left when the military base near their house was bombed and began making their way west through Europe since February. But this feels like they’re almost home or at least to their final destination.

"He says they’re grateful they definitely don’t take it for granted," the translator said.

Hundreds of Ukrainians fleeing the war wait at U.S.-Mexico border

Phil Metzger is the lead pastor of Calvary San Diego Church. He said the church was invested in this community long before the war started and didn’t hesitate to help people who needed temporary shelter.

"We started praying for the people of Ukraine," Metzger said. "We get them a place to sleep a night or two nights. We have host families from our churches that are helping take care of people. Then we also get them a meal, get them wi-fi, help them figure out where their next destination is."

Matthew Bowler
Ukrainian war refugees wait in San Diego near the Port of Entry for a ride to the Calvary San Diego church in Chula Vista just after being allowed to claim asylum in the United States, April 1, 2022.

Volunteers who speak Ukrainian and Russian make the families feel welcome. It’s a happy atmosphere, filled with activities for children who feel safe and free to play.

Metzger said the church had helped about 1,200 families.

"When it first started, we thought it would be like 40 or 50 coming across, and then I think yesterday it was 450," he said. "We’re in it for the long haul as long as we’re needed."

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Most of the families are only here a day or two and quickly connect with their families and friends. Serhii is off with his family to Sacramento, and Musienko and his family will go to Denver with friends. But this respite in Chula Vista won’t be forgotten.

"He just has warm feelings about so many people are willing to help," the translator for Serhii said.

And the ones who made it out hope that those who chose to stay behind aren’t forgotten either.

"Please help everybody to stop this war in Ukraine," Shymanoyska said through tears.