BRIGHTON BEACH — Kateryna Koval was walking along Brighton Beach Avenue on Monday afternoon carrying shopping bags of groceries in both arms, but her mind was 5,000 miles away — in her native Ukraine.
“I can’t believe what’s going on. Terrible. Like a bad dream,” she said. Koval has lived in Brighton Beach for 27 years and is now a U.S. citizen, however, she has friends back in Ukraine and worries for their safety. “They don’t know if they want to stay or go. They are in the west. For now, they are OK. But Ukraine gets more dangerous every day,” she added.
She was relieved when she heard that the Biden Administration has extended the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) program to include Ukrainians living here in the U.S. who do not want to go back with the Russian invasion going on. “Good thing. It gives peace of mind,” she said.
Peace of mind is something Ukrainians in Brighton Beach are looking for as they watch the grim news unfold from their homeland. According to Mayor Eric Adams, New York City is home to the largest population of Ukrainians in the U.S. Many of them reside in Brighton Beach, a neighborhood they share with a significant population of Russian residents.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which administers TPS through one of its agencies, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, announced March 3 that citizens of Ukraine are now eligible to apply for TPS.
Under TPS, citizens of war-torn or otherwise dangerous nations who are currently residing in the U.S. on visas — and who fear for their lives if they return to their home countries — are granted permission by the U.S. government to extend their stay here.
Ukraine now joins countries like Haiti, Syria, and Somalia on the list of nations whose citizens are eligible for TPS. With the addition of Ukraine, there are now 13 countries on that list.
Aleksandr Pavlenko, waiting for a Manhattan-bound Q train at the Brighton Beach station, said he has a friend who plans to apply for TPS. “He’s older and he’s scared. He doesn’t want to go back, not now. He remembers when Ukraine was part of the U.S.S.R. He told me he worries about going back in time. I don’t remember. I was born in 1996,” he explained.
Ukraine, which was formerly part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, became an independent nation in 1991 following the dissolution of the U.S.S.R.
Pavlenko plans to help his friend fill out the TPS application.
“He took a look at it and he says it’s a lot,” he said.
The city is working on “ensuring that New York is a safe haven and that we lead the nation in supporting immigrant communities in a time of need,” Adams and Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Manuel Castro said in a joint statement.
Mayor Adams has announced that the city’s Department of Immigrant Services has set up a special website — nyc.gov/ukraineresources — with information on how Ukrainians here can apply for TPS.
The agency has also set up a telephone hotline, 800-354-0365, for those seeking legal assistance.
The city needs to do a better job of getting the word out, said Father Sergiy Emanuel, administrator of Guardian Angel Church in Brighton Beach. “This website sounds like it could be helpful [but] a lot of people don’t know about it,” he said.