On Feb. 23, Eva Malezhyk was at her family’s home in Kyiv, jotting down chores for the next day in her planner. “I don’t think anything’s going to happen,” the 16-year-old told her friend in the U.S.
On Feb. 24, she woke up at 5 a.m., confused, to her parents frantically running through the house. Then came the air raid sirens, followed by explosions from a missile attack.
On Feb. 25, her family invited friends who lived in a tall apartment building to come stay, worried that it would collapse if hit by a missile.
On Feb. 26, her father watched an airplane get shot out of the sky, crashing into their neighborhood and incinerating a nearby house. It’s unclear whether it was a Ukrainian or Russian craft.
And on April 4, Eva will go to class at East High School in Salt Lake City, one of over 2 million Ukrainian children forced to flee the country since Russian forces invaded.
Her journey to the U.S. was anything but easy. With her parents and another family, Eva crammed into their car and drove west, along with thousands of other Ukrainians fleeing Kyiv — the typical eight hour drive to Chernivtsi in western Ukraine took 22 hours.
And after four days in Chernivtsi, Eva’s parents told her they would be staying in Ukraine. “I was so confused and sad, I didn’t want to leave my parents,” she said.
They’re still there, her mom shuttling refugees from Chernivtsi to Hungary and Austria, then returning with humanitarian aid.
Streamlining 70 pages of bureaucracy
Now, one month removed from air raid sirens and missile attacks, Eva is helping streamline the complex process many Ukrainians will soon undergo to stay in the U.S.
On Thursday, Utah-based tech company SixFifty launched a new tool that effectively automates the incredibly long application for both temporary protected status and asylum.
Founder and CEO of SixFifty Kimball Parker likens it to TurboTax — anyone looking to apply needs to enter personal information like a name and address, and the automated tool does the rest, translating the entries from Ukrainian to English. The applicant is later emailed a copy of their forms, whether it’s for asylum or temporary protected status.
Parker says it’s best to apply with an attorney present, but it’s not necessary.
With the proper framework in place, Parker says the company will now turn to other translators, extending the tool to Pashto and Dari for Afghans, Spanish for Venezuelans, French for Haitians, and other groups granted temporary protected status.
In early March, the Biden administration extended temporary protected status to Ukrainians in the U.S. Anyone who was in the country before March 1 can apply, giving them at least 18 months to stay in the U.S. regardless of their visa status.
But the application is over 70 pages long — in English. The language in the form is confusing for a U.S.-based attorney, let alone a recently arrived refugee.
“With all of the ins and outs, it’s a specialty that most attorneys don’t know much about,” says Jim McConkie, a Salt Lake-based attorney who founded the nonprofit law firm Refugee Justice League.
“When I looked at the forms, it just gave me so much anxiety because as a 16-year-old, I wouldn’t be able to fill that out all by myself,” said Eva, who was integral to the development of SixFifty’s automated tool.
Teaming up with her friend and BYU linguistics student Kateryna Kravchenko, and Kateryna’s mother, Lena, the three helped translate both the temporary protected status and asylum applications from English to Ukrainian, which were then used in SixFifty’s automation process.
Four million Ukrainians in limbo
Both Lena Kravchenko and Eva made the journey across Ukraine together, and are now living with a family friend in Salt Lake City.
They’re among the 4 million Ukrainians who fled the country since the war. After just one month, Russia’s invasion has led to the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.
At least 2.3 million Ukrainians are now in Poland, many living in dormitories set up by the Polish government, but some are being housed by ordinary families as the unprecedented surge in migrants is overwhelming authorities.
An additional 6.5 million people are internally displaced, according to the latest report from the U.N.
In an effort to ease the burden on countries in Eastern Europe, the Biden administration recently announced the U.S. will accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, extending the “full range of legal pathways” to people fleeing the war.
In addition to temporary protected status and asylum, they can apply for humanitarian parole, special immigrant visas or the refugee admission program.
There are at least 34,000 Ukrainians living in the U.S. who are either undocumented or have an unknown immigration status — an additional 27,000 have temporary visas, according to the American Immigration Council. In all, the group estimates there are roughly 75,000 Ukrainians in the U.S. that are eligible for temporary protection status.