At the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine late this past winter, a feeling of powerlessness seemed to unite many East Enders, and people all over the United States, who weren’t sure what role they could play in helping ease the suffering endured in a conflict on the other side of the world.
The most local Ukrainian church, in Riverhead, had asked residents to stop donating supplies because they were overwhelmed by the logistics of getting those supplies to Ukraine, and proudly displaying a Ukrainian flag seemed a hollow gesture in support of a country whose cries to the U.S. to cover its airspace had gone unheard.
But for several residents of Orient, one day stands out — April 22 — when President Joe Biden announced the Uniting for Ukraine program committing the United States to accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees from the conflict. This, they felt, may be their chance to actually make a difference.
Nearly five months later, on Sept. 13, now incorporated as the non-profit East End United Community Partners, the group welcomed a family of five from western Ukraine to Orient, where their three elementary school-age children are beginning classes at the Oysterponds School.
Orient residents Tim Frost and Dinah Seiver have been driving the effort since this past spring, after having numerous informal conversations over the prior year, trying to figure out how to help Afghan refugees after American forces withdrew from that country in 2021. They had been searching for a local volunteer group that helped to resettle refugees, and after they didn’t find one, they started their own.
“Our goal is to help meet the needs of displaced people, broadly defined,” said Ms. Seiver.
“We are their formal sponsors,” she said of the family from Ukraine. “We want to support them according to their needs as they express them.”
“We’re supporting them, not adopting them,” Mr. Frost was quick to add. “We want to protect their privacy, and their free will.”
The family is comprised of a mother and father, both professionals, in their 30s, and their three school-aged children. The father was not conscripted to serve in the Ukrainian military because he had three young children to support, said the sponsors. They fled to Poland at the start of the Russian aggression this spring, where the father took on odd jobs doing carpentry and landscaping and driving people to the airport.
Orient residents have been quick to answer the call to help, said Mr. Frost and Ms. Seiver. One even donated the full use of their furnished house for the entire school year, allowing the kids to have an uninterrupted year of schooling, a local church donated the use of a van to bring them to Orient from the airport and neighbors have offered to help in ways as varied as babysitting, finding the family a car and offering translation services.
The parents are not yet eligible to work in the United States — they will have to apply for working papers now that they’ve arrived — but they are eligible for Medicaid, SNAP and New York State driver’s licenses.
East End United Community Partners, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit in June of this year, is currently looking for financial donations to continue to support the family until they are able to support themselves. Donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 653, Orient, NY. 11957.
They’re also looking for people who can provide Ukrainian/English translation services for helping the couple navigate bureaucracies such as the DMV. For more information, email email@example.com.
While volunteer organizations helping refugee resettlement are rare on eastern Long Island, they can be found throughout the United States, both in rural and urban areas. East End United Community Partners organized their group based on a model provided by welcome.us, an offshoot of the International Rescue Committee.
“Our larger goal is to show this community has more in common than it knows, and we can accomplish good together,” said Ms. Seiver. “This has involved people on all points of the political spectrum.”
While this group would like to help another family in the future, they’re hoping to also inspire other people throughout the East End to embark on similar projects, providing people who are new to our community with the kind of ultra-local support and care they need to transition to a self-sufficient life here.
“Ultimately, if you’re resettling people, you need to drill down to the real local level,” said Mr. Frost. “We have a model because other people have a model. We’re still at the acorn stage, but ultimately we want to see other people do this. The best part, for me, has been to empower people to know they can do this kind of thing.” —BHY