couple from Syracuse aims to make a small dent in the Ukrainian refugee population | News, Sports, Jobs

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Syracuse’s Leyla Kazvin, pictured in Ogden on Sunday April 17, 2022, plans to travel to Poland with her husband Ashim Raiani to help Ukrainian refugees fleeing the country due to the Russian invasion.

Tim Vandenack, Standard Examiner

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This map shows Ukraine, in pink, and the surrounding countries to which many Ukrainian citizens have fled due to the Russian invasion, which began on February 24, 2022.

Image courtesy of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency

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Syracuse’s Leyla Kazvin, pictured in Ogden on Sunday April 17, 2022, plans to travel to Poland with her husband Ashim Raiani to help Ukrainian refugees fleeing the country due to the Russian invasion.

Tim Vandenack, Standard Examiner
















SYRACUSE — Nearly 5 million Ukrainians have fled their country since Russia began its invasion on February 24.

Layla Kazvin and husband Ashim Raiani can’t make a huge dent in that massive number – UNHCR estimate, the UN refugee agency – but the couple from Syracuse want to help. They plan to travel to Krakow, Poland, later this week to help transport Ukrainian refugees from the city to more permanent homes in the region. They also plan to find a refugee family and help them immigrate to the United States.

“So many refugees in the world. … It has become a global problem,” said Kazvin, herself an immigrant from Azerbaijan, which, like Ukraine, borders Russia and was part of the former Soviet Union.

They join a contingent of independent humanitarians from Utah and beyond who feel compelled to act, want to act directly to help Ukraine and the people of the country as they push back against Russia. Many organizations are soliciting donations from the public to help Ukraine, Kazvin noted. But it’s hard to know exactly where the donations are going, she says, and she and her husband are eager to help directly.

“I want to see it with my own eyes,” she said.

They plan to tap perhaps $25,000 of their own funds into the initiative, according to a budget for the effort prepared by Raiani, and team up with representatives from The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints in Poland to provide assistance. They also launched a fundraising online to raise funds to help a second family of refugees immigrate to the United States, if they obtain sufficient funds.

Kazvin, a software analyst, knows what it’s like to be an immigrant to the United States. She also knows what it means to be the target of Russian aggression. Before coming to the United States with her parents and brother, she remembers the nation’s Russian forces on the streets of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, where she lived. It wasn’t as bloody as the invasion of Ukraine, but still intimidating.

“I remember the soldiers. I remember the army. I remember seeing them on the street,” Kazvin said. She speaks Russian in particular, which will help her in her efforts since the Ukrainians also speak the language.

Raiani, who works in information technology and is originally from Iran, recalls wanting to help as the Syrian civil war broke out more than a decade ago and grew increasingly violent, but couldn’t do anything. Now he wants to take action. He quoted a poem by Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet, which states that there is “no better prayer than public service”.

According to UNHCR figures, the aid needs seem numerous. Some 4.93 million Ukrainians had fled the country following the Russian invasion through last Friday, with 2.78 million of them in Poland, where Raiani and Kazvin plan to travel.

Still, getting them to the United States could be a challenge. Raiani talked about getting the family through Frankfurt, Germany, or Tijuana, Mexico, while Kazvin said Canada could be the perfect conduit.

The administration of President Joe Biden announced in March that the United States would help up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing the Russian invasion. “In particular, we are working to expand and develop new programs with an emphasis on welcoming Ukrainians who have family members in the United States,” the White House said.

Kazvin and Raiani say their plan is to bring a refugee family to Utah and help them settle here. Raiani bristles at the possibility of running into obstacles that prevent him and his wife from starting a family in the United States. This, he said, “would make me sad and depressed.”



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