MARIETTA, GA – The Episcopal Church of the Annunciation is helping a Ukrainian family reunite and find safety from war.
The Church is providing housing, transportation and connecting the family to refugee services, said parishioner Nicole File.
File, who is the vestry liaison for REACH, the charitable wing of Episcopal Church of the Annunciation, (ECA) said its rector The Rev. Paul McCabe immediately supported the idea.
“ECA had a substantial amount of money that had been set aside for a summer program for underprivileged kids, but we hadn’t been able to run it in two years due to Covid,” File said.
“Father Paul and I had been looking hard for a way to spend that money, but we were both adamant that it needed to present volunteer and service opportunities for our congregation.”
McCabe said he was determined that the money not just sit idly in a bank account.
“I told the senior warden that it was criminal that the money was just accumulating interest when it could be used to serve others,” McCabe said.
The vestry approved the plan to sponsor a family from Ukraine that included ways parishioners could be involved.
“It presents many opportunities for personal connection between congregants and the community in ways we never have,” File said. “Father Paul and I agreed that this can be fertile ground for personal, spiritual, and congregational growth — as well as helping a family who desperately needs it.”
The idea had been on her mind since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, File said.
“When the war broke out, I contacted an acquaintance who had done aid work during the last Russia-Ukraine war in 2014, and he put me in touch with a Ukrainian Pentecostal pastor in Gainesville.”
But putting the plan into action required having an individual sponsor certified by the U.S. State Department’s United for Ukraine (U4U) program. So, File applied. She was approved in November.
The U4U program provides refugees with humanitarian parole (HP), which allows them to stay in the U.S. for up to two years. It’s a much faster process than official refugee status, and no visas are required before arriving in the U.S., File said.
“That saves our government a lot of time and money and gets people to safety more quickly,” she said.
The U4U sponsor must provide financial stability for the refugees.
HP was extended to Afghans after the U.S. withdrawal and has also been expanded to refugees from Venezuela and other countries. It provides the same security checks and medical clearances as refugee status – the highest level of scrutiny – but does not provide a path to citizenship.
More than 7 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland since Russia invaded the country in February 2022.
Some 221,000 U4U Ukrainians will be accepted into the U.S. through the program. “Congress has the option to extend a parole program beyond two years, if they choose,” File said.
The church arraigned for Lutheran refugee assistance nonprofit, Inspiritus, to help the family. But File said the church’s success is due to the many individuals she calls “God links” who supported the church’s efforts for the Ukrainian family.
The first was the Ukrainian pastor in Gainesville.
He told File some friends Irina Demidovich, her husband Volodymyr and their three children who had fled their home Slovyansk were eager to come to the US. They had been separated as refugees and were desperate to be reunited.
Slovyansk was the starting point of the 2014 invasion by Russia, and the current invasion broke out very close to Slovyansk as well, File said.
“In the first war, the Demidovich’s had to evacuate with virtually nothing. Their house survived but was looted and stripped. They had started all over — Irina had to replace all the supplies for her wedding & event decor company and Volodymyr had to replace all his tools and supplies for his construction & renovation work,” File said. “And now they had to leave it all behind again.
“As Irina explained to me, ‘All our two younger boys have ever known is war, or the imminent threat of war.’ and that for the sake of their three sons, they needed to start a new life.”
And the God links just kept appearing, File said.
“A broker at Wilcher Properties got so excited about this mission and helped us convince the owners of a beautiful little house just three minutes away from the church to rent to a family with no credit history, Social Security cards, or income.”
ECA paid six months’ rent in advance, plus a large security deposit.
When nearby Heritage Presbyterian Church heard about the project their members donated clothes for the young boys and sent them a large amount of Christmas gifts.
ECA parishioners contributed furniture, household supplies, and food for the pantry and freezer and got their friends and neighbors involved.
Parishioner Janet Livingston donated an SUV to the family and reached out to friends Debbie Regan and her mother Jane Collins, who attend The Cathedral Saint Philip.
“Mom and I belong to a garden club with our dear friend Janet Livingston. She contacted us about the Ukrainian family,” Debbie Regan said. The timing couldn’t have been better, she said.
“My mother-in-law had moved to a retirement home, and she’d been in her house for 62 years and wanted her things to go to somebody in need, not to a thrift shop.”
The request resonated with the women and with Debbie’s husband Brian.
“It was mom’s house. I grew up in it and it was her and my dad’s pride and joy and it just got to be she couldn’t take care of it anymore,” Brian said.
“When Debbie told me about this, I was like, oh my gosh, you know, let’s do it! This is great because I didn’t want anything to go to waste and just like be hauled off or maybe put into a warehouse never to be seen again.”
The Regan’s said they are glad to be God links for the project.
“The folks at ECA were just lovely and we got a kick out of Father Paul. He was something else. And Nicole was just so wonderful,” Debbie said. “We feel blessed to connect with these people and be able to give them furniture. We can’t wait to get up there to where the house is and see everything.”
ECA parishioner Cindy Lippert, whose previous church in Maryland had been part of a multi-faith refugee family relocation, immediately volunteered.
“When Nicole proposed the opportunity to help bring a family from Ukraine to Marietta, I knew I needed to be a part of it!” she said.
Lippert said the way ECA parishioners and others have stepped up brought her joy and strengthened her faith.
“As a person who has struggled with faith and religion in recent years, this makes my heart happy! So many people doing small things with great love have blessed this family and have in turn been blessed!” Lippert said.
Irina Demidovich and the two younger boys, Timur, 13 and Natan, 11 arrived in November. Husband Volodymyr and son Mark, who just turned 19 this month, joined them in January, after more than a year of being separated from their family.
“Their reunion was so beautiful to see,” File said.
Volodymyr and Irina Demidovich almost immediately found work, File said.
“They have been working for a couple of weeks at a florist in Roswell, making Valentine’s Day flower arrangements, she said. The U4U program allows enrolled refugees to legally work while in the U.S., according to the program’s website.
File said the couple is looking for permanent work in the Woodstock area.
Both are skilled at computer graphics, layout, and advertising work, and Volodymyr is also a photographer and videographer, she said.
ECA rector McCabe said the effort has done far more than provide a haven for the Demidoviches.
“Members at Annunciation have taken to heart the message of being the hands and feet of Christ, not just in our backyard, but out in the world,” McCabe said. “This has been a challenging commitment to help a family across the globe from a war-torn country relocate here amidst several barriers.
“It is with much grace and love our members have overcome the challenges and lived out our unofficial motto, ‘it’s what we do!’ “And in that we say, To God be the Glory!”
Learn how your parish can help families seeking refuge from danger in Ukraine, Afghanistan, and other countries.