Thanks to the Uniting for Ukraine program, more than 82,000 Ukrainians and their immediate family members have been welcomed into the U.S., according to a The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services 2022 fiscal year progress report issued in December.
The U4U program allows refugees to travel to the U.S. and stay for up to two years. Some of those refugees landed in the local area, and Longboat Key neighbors were happy to support them over the holidays.
Irina LaRose has been selling handmade items to benefit Ukrainian relief out of her hair salon Design 2000 since the war broke out. Before Christmas, her work neighbor’s 13-year-old daughter saw an opportunity to pitch in. Lark Rippy’s mom, Heather, owns Driftwood Beach Home & Garden. Rippy set up a gift-wrapping station outside the boutique and raised $270 wrapping Christmas presents.
LaRose also coordinated a Ukrainian-themed Christmas tree to be decorated for the Longboat Island Chapel’s monthlong Christmas in the Garden event. When a Ukrainian friend of LaRose’s asked if the chapel would host a Christmas party for refugee children, the answer was a fast yes.
Chapel member Lesley Rife arrived to see about 25 children playing in the garden. They didn’t speak English, and it was their first Christmas away from home, but they were singing, dancing and fully enjoying the moment.
Boris Tsatskin is a local saxophone player who was already booked to perform in the garden, but not on that day. He dropped the sax and played Did Moroz (Father Frost) instead. Did’s attire is similar to his American counterpart Santa, but the coat is dark blue with white embroidery and stretches to the floor. Tsatskin led the partygoers around the garden in a conga line.
Funds raised are being donated to the Danube International Company, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Call 727-644-4839 for more information or to make a donation.