Topeka leaders form Ukrainian refugee task force as Russian invasion continues

Published: Mar. 25, 2022 at 11:46 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Leaders from around Kansas’ Capitol City will form a task force to discuss how Topeka can best support refugees from Ukraine as Russia continues to invade.

The Greater Topeka Partnership says it has joined a task force with the City and local leaders to explore how the Capitol City can position itself to support Ukrainian refugees and strengthen local capacity to support victims of future international conflicts.

“I am incredibly grateful for the support this community has already shown to the plight of the Ukrainian people,” Yana Ross said. “Topeka is a loving and welcoming city. I have friends who are currently being housed in refugee camps in Poland. I am working hard to bring them over to stay with me during this crisis. I believe other Topekans would open their hearts and homes to those in need if there was an opportunity to do so.”

GTP said the task force will be led by Yana Ross, who moved to Topeka from Ukraine 16 years ago. Other notable members include Topeka City Council member Karen Hiller and Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce president Curtis Sneden. Additional members include area business people and representatives from the Topeka Community Foundation and Topeka Center for Peace and Justice. More members could be added as the discussion unfolds.

Yana Ross relocated to Topeka from Ukraine 16 years ago, she says Topeka welcomed her with open arms.

“Topeka was extremely friendly and willing to help, people took me around where I needed to go because at that time I didn’t have a U.S. license so I couldn’t drive, they introduced me to different volunteer organizations because I don’t like to sit at home,” she said.

She hopes the city will continue to extend its helping hands to others.

“I have had lots of people reach out to me during these months saying what can we do, we don’t just want to donate, we will be happy to open up a space in our house for them.”

“I have already heard from people offering to house refugees,” said Hiller, who represents city council District 1. “The character of a city is defined by how it responds to others in need, and I am encouraged by how our community is already stepping up to offer support. The Ukrainian crisis has shined a light on the plight of refugees. This task force gives us an opportunity to explore how Topeka can be part of the solution by creating a sustainable process to support refugees during this conflict, and others in the future.”

Sneden said residents are fortunate to live in the Topeka area and the U.S. in general. He said residents should remember that the American dream is universal.

“Watching the war unfold in Ukraine makes us all realize how fortunate we are to live in Topeka, in Kansas, and in the United States of America,” Sneden said. “The life, liberty and pursuit of happiness we sometimes take for granted is not just an American dream. It is a dream shared by people across the globe, and this dream of Ukrainians is being shattered. It is time for us to band together and look for ways to support them. A community that can come together and make itself ready to help its neighbors in need is not distracted from achieving its economic goals; it is embodying them.”

GTP CEO Matt Pivarnik said the discussion would focus on questions of travel, federal support and housing.

“There are clearly many questions that still need to be answered,” said Matt Pivarnik, CEO of the Greater Topeka Partnership. “How would refugees travel here? What support will the federal government provide? Where can people be housed if they arrive? We look forward to helping facilitate these conversations and, hopefully, find a way to give some families in need a shelter during this dreadful storm.”

GTP said more information about how to stay informed on task-force actions and discussions will be made available in the near future.

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