Ukrainian refugees protest in Poland. Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

When people are fleeing war, they go when they can as soon as they are able to.

Dana Gold, the chief operating officer of Squirrel Hill-based Jewish Family and Community Services, which helps with the resettlement of refugees, says her agency once received four hours’ notice that 10 people were coming to Pittsburgh from Afghanistan, needing housing and everything else that goes with a new life.

Now, with Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia, Gold says, “We have no idea how many people will land in Pittsburgh.”

That urgent need spurred the Richard King Mellon Foundation to provide $499,000 to help Ukrainians who come to Pittsburgh.

Gold says that the way Ukrainians are coming into the country is different than refugees from other conflicts. Usually, refugees spend years in camps waiting for a chance to come to the U.S. But Ukrainians can come if they are sponsored by family members, which is why, with the large population of Ukrainians already in the city, Pittsburgh may receive many refugees.

The Richard King Mellon Foundation notes that the White House announced that the country will accept up to 100,000 people fleeing Ukraine.

“Ukrainians have been drawn to Pittsburgh for more than 100 years,” Sam Reiman, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation, said in a press release announcing the grants. “We want to be ready to help when and if they come to Pittsburgh again. The tragic war against Ukraine already has displaced more than 10 million Ukrainians. Cities and countries around the world are ready to welcome them with open arms. This funding will help to ensure that Pittsburgh is ready to take its place among them.”

The Pittsburgh Foundation and United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania have created a way to help Ukraine.

Pittsburghers also can contribute to #PghUnitedForUkraine, an effort by The Pittsburgh Foundation and United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania to send money to United Way organizations in the countries welcoming Ukrainians fleeing the war.

JFCS, which is also raising money on its website to help displaced Ukrainians, received $125,000 to provide emergency assistance to refugees in the form of food, clothing, rent and basic needs for 75 people.

The money is designed to anticipate the need, rather than react to it, so the Richard King Mellon Foundation reached out to social service organizations that have a track record of helping refugees from previous international crises.

Gold says her organization also provides legal services to help newcomers achieve legal status so they can work while here.

While other displaced people are permanently resettling in the U.S., Gold notes that many Ukrainians will want to return home to their country, where their husbands and fathers have stayed to fight the war. The population of fleeing Ukrainians is mainly women and children, as well as men who are older than 60.

The other organizations helping the refugees are:

  • Catholic Charities Diocese of Pittsburgh, $100,000 to provide mental health, case management and related services to 50 to 75 refugees
  • Hello Neighbor, $100,000 to provide housing, health care, education, employment and transportation assistance to 100 refugees
  • Holy Family Institute, $174,000 to provide education services (with Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking volunteers), clothing and recreation supplies, welcome packages and counseling for 24 orphaned or displaced Ukrainian children.

“While this funding will help them begin preparations, the need may turn out to be far greater, and we invite other organizations and individuals to support these efforts as well,” Reiman says.

Ann Belser

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh's East End communities. After receiving a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she moved to Squirrel Hill and was a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 20 years where she covered local communities, county government, courts and business.