EL PASO — Ukrainians fleeing the invasion of their homeland by Russian forces and the subsequent atrocities have begun crossing the US-Mexico border and arriving in frontier towns across Texas seeking asylum, refugee organizations tell The Post.
One group of six refugees arrived in El Paso after making their way from Ukraine to the Netherlands before flying to Mexico.
The group included Tatiana Soloshchuk, her husband, their three sons, another mother and her young daughter. The Soloshchuks were bound for Kentucky, while the other mother and child were en route to Denver.
“They spent four days in Mexico,” said Soloshchuk’s friend, who translated her responses to The Post’s questions over the phone and declined to give her name. “They came through Mexico because it’s the quickest opportunity to get to the United States.”
As with countries in the European Union, Ukrainians don’t need a visa to travel to Mexico. Once Tatiana’s group arrived in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, they turned up at the Paso Del Norte International Port of Entry and got in line to make their asylum claim. They waited for 20 hours, sitting outside in the chill of the desert night until they were seen by a Customs and Border Protection officer who granted them humanitarian parole.
“They’re sad and heartbroken,” the friend said. “They were scared for their sons. The younger one has asthma. It got bad when they were hiding in the basement from the bombing.”
After friends in Kentucky offered to pay for their trip and help them get settled in the US, the Soloshchuks decided to go, leaving other family members and loved ones behind.
“Many (Ukrainian) families would love to come to the US, but not everyone can make the trip,” Tatiana’s friend said. “It’s only because of their friends in Kentucky that they can afford to make this trip.”
The Soloschucks don’t know if they will stay in the US or return to Ukraine one day after the war is over.
“For now, they want their sons to be able to go back to school,” their friend said. “Education, freedom, safety, that’s what’s important right now.”
The Soloschucks and their translator friend could only spare five minutes to talk before a car arrived. Their Kentucky friends had arranged for the family to be picked up from the International Bridge in El Paso and taken to the airport for the last leg of their trip.
Annunciation House director Ruben Garcia, who runs El Paso’s largest immigrant shelter, told The Post his staff are seeing anywhere from two to eight Ukrainians per day.
“We’re seeing just a trickle and they don’t stay at the shelter for long,” Garcia said.
Six hundred miles away, in Laredo, the local diocese’s chapter of Catholic Charities has received at least 10 Ukrainians at its shelter. Executive Director Rebecca Solloa said those who come to her facility arrive from the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, about three hours south of the border by car.
“They’ll drive [in] by taxi all the way up to the bridge, and they’ll say, ‘We’re pleading asylum,’” she said. †[Customs agents] will take them down from the car and move them forward.”
The shelter counts are unofficial and the true numbers of those crossing the border are probably higher, since many Ukrainian asylum-seekers bypass immigrant shelters completely when they arrive.
The Biden administration announced last month that it would welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees displaced by the war.
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests by The Post for information on the number of Ukrainian refugees. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that more than 10,000 Ukrainians had visited Mexico as tourists in the first two months of this year, and officials believe most of that number will eventually head to the US.