CORONADO, Calif. (Border Report) — From a distance, they appeared to be your typical neighborhood kids dancing around under a gazebo.
Then, you see many of them wearing “Pray for Ukraine” T-shirts.
As you get closer, you notice several volunteers working with the kids.
The children are Ukrainian refugees enjoying a day at a park in the city of Coronado, Calif., across the bay from Downtown San Diego.
Just a few months ago, they were fleeing Russian forces that invaded their home country.
The kids and their families made it to Mexico and ultimately California.
An estimated 25,000 Ukrainians were able to cross the border into the United States earlier this year, and most did it via the Tijuana-San Diego region, said Vlad Fedoroshyn, a volunteer who led efforts to help many of these refugees.
He told Border Report most have gone on to live in the state of Washington, Sacramento and New York City, but he continues working with the refugees in Southern California.
“We’re giving them legal help, helping them apply for work authorizations, welfare, food stamps and other stuff,” he said.
English courses and even surfing lessons and other recreational opportunities are also offered to the migrants.
But in spite of this assistance, many Ukrainian refugees are discovering life in the U.S., especially in Southern California, can be difficult.
“To rent an apartment is very hard because it’s expensive and you don’t have any credit history so it’s almost impossible to rent,” said Fedoroshyn. “It’s hard to buy a car here, lots of people came here with the American dream they thought everything would be perfect here.”
Fedoroshyn says some have become homesick and have returned home.
“Five percent of these people, they went back to Ukraine because they couldn’t survive here, it was very hard,” he said.
Iryna, who left Ukraine with her two sons seven days after Russian forces invaded, has remained.
“I remembered the bombings when the war started and we had to go to the bomb shelters,” she said through a translator.
Iryna says her older son who is 15 is adapting well, although her 5-year-old continues having nightmares and anxiety attacks brought on by memories of the shelling and bombs back home.
She said that despite these issues, she’s glad to be in the U.S. and is very grateful to those who have helped her family, especially while in Mexico.
“We were amazed by how people accepted us in Mexico, volunteers and everyone treated us very well and welcomed us, and the food was great,” she said.
As for Fedoroshyn, he says there’s still work to be done.
“There’s some people in Tijuana in a shelter, about 55, we’re trying to get them to Mexico City,” he said. “There are many scams in Europe where Ukrainians are told they can come to the U.S. if they travel to Tijuana and many are falling for it.”
In late April, the U.S. government stopped allowing Ukrainians to cross the border through ports of entry, forcing them to ask for help back in Europe at American embassies or consulates.
And if they travel to Mexico, the Ukrainian refugees have to remain in Mexico City where they can also seek assistance.
If their applications are approved, they are flown directly to cities across the United States.