Two-year-old Mark Radius stopped speaking after Russian missiles destroyed an apartment building near his home in the Ukrainian city of Odesa last summer. The smiling little boy with the soft brown hair, usually so eager to offer visitors peanuts and pretzels and to ask for hugs, began having panic attacks that left him mute.
That’s when his parents knew they had to leave, even if it meant saying goodbye to family members they might never see again.
Andrei and Violetta Radius posted a request for American sponsors on the Facebook group, Uniting for Ukraine‐US Sponsorship, shortly after the July 1, 2022 attack. Within days, their plea had captured the attention of Harford County residents Jordan Stave and his partner, Anthony Blake Clark.
By September, the Radius family was living in the basement of Stave’s and Clark’s 18th century farmhouse in Fallston. They are among the more than 270,000 displaced Ukrainians who have relocated to America since the Russian invasion, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“We had been attending a birthday party for my brother’s 1-year-old son,” Andrei Radius, 27, said.
“The party was over and the kids had been put to bed when an app on my phone informed us about an incoming air raid. We all went down to the bomb shelter. We heard six or seven explosions, and after 40 minutes, when we opened the door, all we saw were flames. A five-story apartment building nearby had been hit, and 21 people died in that attack.”
It wasn’t the first bombing the little boy had experienced firsthand, but it was the closest. Though the missile attack occurred nine months ago, it traumatized Mark, now 3.
“To this day, every time he hears airplanes flying overhead or when he hears a loud noise, he’s afraid,” said Violetta Radius, 23. “He Facetimes every day with my mother and he always warns her, ‘Grandma, watch out for the bombs.’”
The Radius family speaks limited English, but were interviewed with the help of translator Peter Charchalis, a Harford County real estate agent and the son of Ukrainian immigrants.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration founded Uniting for Ukraine in April 2022, two months after the Russian invasion. The new program significantly streamlined the process by which people in need of humanitarian aid could gain admittance the U.S. These visitors, known as “parolees,” can enter the country on an emergency basis for two years.
Previously, those seeking to enter the U.S. either had to obtain a short-term visa in their homelands or prove they faced persecution due to political or religious reasons — a process that on average takes more than 18 months, according to Ruben Chandrasekar, acting director of the International Rescue Country’s Mid-Atlantic region.
“‘Uniting for Ukraine’ provides a pathway for vulnerable Ukrainians to enter the U.S. and be supported by everyday Americans who want to help people seeking our protection,” Chandrasekar said, while noting the need for similar programs to help those living in other nations beset by terrorism and political instability.
“We hope alternative pathways to enter the U.S. are extended to populations in other unstable countries where very vulnerable people are living,” Chandrasekar said. “There is a huge appetite to help by well-meaning Americans who understand the importance of having a fresh start.
Instead of working through government offices or resettlement agencies, Ukrainians seeking to leave their homeland post requests on the Uniting for Ukraine Facebook page. Benefactors choose an individual or family to sponsor and message them directly. Once an agreement has been reached, both parties register with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Sponsors fill out a form guaranteeing that they have sufficient financial resources to support the visitors.
Once background checks, vaccinations and medical screenings have been completed, the Ukrainians receive a visa and make travel arrangements.
The pitches on the website are determinedly upbeat, optimistic — and heartrending. They attempt to reassure potential sponsors that the immigrants won’t be a burden.
“My family and I have been deeply affected by the ongoing conflict with Russia, and we’ve been forced to flee our home and seek safety elsewhere,” reads one post from the father of two daughters. “We’re hardworking, motivated and committed to making a positive contribution to society.”
Another post includes a photo of a woman embracing her 8-year-old daughter. The girl wears a fancy red party dress and holds flowers and half a dozen balloons decorated with hearts. The mother assures readers that she has a job in information technology, works remotely, and can support her little family by herself. All she needs is a sponsor. “We very much believe our dream will come true, and we will find a person who will respond to our request,” she writes.
Stave, an attorney, and Clark, music director of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, were shaken by the Russian invasion and wanted to help. They live on a 9-acre farm, and figured that they had room to spare.
“The war was a sobering thing,” Stave said.
“I wanted to do something beyond writing a check to relief organizations. I got to Googling and kind of stumbled upon Uniting for Ukraine.
“We originally said we were going to sponsor one person, and that’s it,” Stave said. “But then we saw the Radius’ family picture on Facebook, and it was all three of them. It’s hard to say no when small children are involved.”
The Radius family is determined to soon become independent. Andrei is working two jobs — full-time on a factory assembly line in Anne Arundel County and part-time in construction— because he and Violetta hope to save enough money to rent an apartment of their own.
For now, Violetta is staying home with Mark. But she hopes to soon find a job as well; Stave and Clark recently submitted an application to sponsor Mark’s great-grandmother, who would relocate to Fallston and provide child care.
“Jordan and Blake opened their home to help a family from a foreign country that they didn’t know,” Violetta said. “They had no ulterior motive. When we arrived, everything had been prepared for us. There were beds, children’s toys and books, everything to make us feel at home.”
Since the couple lacks a credit history and speaks little English, finding an apartment has proved daunting. Violetta said they have applied for several and been turned down.
A neighbor, Mary Swann, 81, has been helping by visiting church groups on the family’s behalf, driving them to look at prospective apartments, making phone calls.
“It’s been very frustrating,“ Swann said. “We live in our beautiful little Monkton world, and to see what a struggle it is to come to this country under the best of circumstances has been eye-opening.”
According to the aid organization Welcome.US, the cities with the greatest number of displaced Ukrainians are New York, Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Miami.
Because Ukrainian visitors can enter the U.S. by multiple methods (with a visa, by receiving official refugee status and through private sponsorships), it is difficult to calculate precisely how many have settled in Maryland.
Brian Schleter, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Human Services, said that since the Russian invasion, between 400 and 500 displaced Ukrainians have registered for state relief programs that provide services ranging from health insurance to youth playgroups to English language classes.
Since not all foreign visitors need extra help, he estimated that between 1,000 and 1,500 displaced Ukrainians have resettled in Maryland. Most are clustered in Baltimore and Montgomery Counties — relatively affluent areas near public transportation hubs where residents have the financial means to offer support.
In the quiet of the Harford County countryside, young Mark is finally starting to relax. These days, he worries less about bombs and more about getting scratched by a neighbor’s cat. His parents wish their son had more chances to play with kids his own age, but that will come once he enters preschool this fall.
As grateful as Andrei and Violetta Radius are to their U.S. hosts, the couple still think of Ukraine as their home. They hope to eventually return — but only after they can be assured that their country once again is safe.
It’s also possible that their U.S. status as parolees will be extended before it expires in September 2024 — as it already has for the earliest wave of displaced Ukrainians.
“It’s complicated,” Violetta said. “We don’t want to return to war. We want to return to peace. But, we don’t know how long that will take.”
What does say when you will not fight to save your own country and choose instead to flee. The life boat does not have an unlimited capacity. Over fill it and it will sink and everyone drowns. FCPS is a perfect example.
Absolutely. Thanks to the couple who opened their home, and welcome to their guests.
Really good people here, thanks for this piece. The war isn't over, America.
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