Thousands of Ukrainians cross the US-Mexico border: NPR


Temporary shelter for Ukrainians in Tijuana, Mexico. Thousands of fugitives have arrived here, waiting to be allowed into the United States by border agents.

Carlos A. for NPR. Moreno


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Temporary shelter for Ukrainians in Tijuana, Mexico. Thousands of fugitives have arrived here, waiting to be allowed into the United States by border agents.

Carlos A. for NPR. Moreno

Thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the war are arriving in Mexico’s northern border cities. There they present themselves to US border agents and seek temporary asylum in the United States on humanitarian grounds. Thousands of Ukrainians have been allowed inside – the Biden administration has opened up ways to make it easier for them to enter the United States faster than those from other countries.

But as many Ukrainians have come, a setback has developed.

In Tijuana, Mexico, across San Diego, a large volunteer effort organized by Ukrainian-Americans and others associated with the region sparked swelling. They set up a spacious temporary shelter, brought Ukrainian food plates from Los Angeles and San Diego, and coordinated with immigration agents to process large groups across the border.

Although they were quickly mobilized to comfort the thousands of refugees approaching the end of their safe journey, their efforts were drowned out by the endless flow of new arrivals.

Here are the lives of some of those who thanked World War I on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“War still affects her”

It took several weeks for Alexei Ivkov to persuade his mother Tatiana to leave Ukraine. She was determined to take refuge in a subway tunnel in their hometown of Kharkiv and wait for war. But as the war intensified, she finally agreed to leave – and to meet her son in Tijuana.

The trip took her nine days. Ivkov drove north of San Francisco to pick her up. He immediately noticed that the loud noise was startling her. As they exited the Tijuana airport, the noise of a large truck made her jump.

“The war still affects her,” he said. On a recent day, Ivkov and his mother sat in folding chairs in the dormitory waiting for them to leave for the United States.

Tatiana, 74, who only shared her first name, said she is now very happy to see her relatives and grandchildren in California after more than a month of tension. But she is looking forward to returning to Ukraine and reuniting with her partner, as he is in his late 50s, he is considered a fighting age and has been barred from leaving the country.

“After a little quiet, I’ll be right back.”


The Ukrainians board a shuttle from the shelter to the border of Tijuana with San Diego. The United States is temporarily allowing Ukrainians to flee the war on humanitarian grounds.

Carlos A. for NPR. Moreno


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The Ukrainians board a shuttle from the shelter to the border of Tijuana with San Diego. The United States is temporarily allowing Ukrainians to flee the war on humanitarian grounds.

Carlos A. for NPR. Moreno


On the space shuttle.

Carlos A. for NPR. Moreno


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On the space shuttle.

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Volunteers along with Tijuana officials turned the municipal sports complex into a shelter for thousands.

Carlos A. for NPR. Moreno


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Volunteers along with Tijuana officials turned the municipal sports complex into a shelter for thousands.

Carlos A. for NPR. Moreno

“We need more help”

Olya Krasnykh is a Russian-American real estate executive in Silicon Valley. But when he learned that the Ukrainians were coming to the border, he set aside his work and came to the rescue. Within the steps of the border a tent city was formed. Krosnik and other volunteers, along with Tijuana city officials, moved everyone a short distance to a municipal sports complex.

It became a widespread activity. Ukrainian-American volunteers greeted all Ukrainian-filled planes at the airport, sent them to a shelter, began booking and queuing. When it’s their turn, they and their luggage are loaded onto another spacecraft to the border. In recent days, people have been waiting in shelters for two or three days for their turn to come. But the wait is long, because the Ukrainians are coming to Tijuana faster than the border agents can execute them.

Until a few days ago, Krosnik estimated that the shelter had registered about 10,000 people.

“This is an activity that is well managed by a team of grassroots volunteers,” Krosnik said. But, as it has grown so rapidly, it now needs the support of a professional non-profit, he added. “We are at a breaking point where we need more help.”

“We bought six air mattresses”

Phil Metzger has no plans to turn his church in San Diego into a major destination for Ukrainian refugees. Medzer is the head pastor of Calvary San Diego, About 15 minutes north of the Mexican border. When the Ukrainians started coming there, he thought he could do a favor.

“Two weeks ago we bought six air mattresses that might help some,” he said. “We don’t know, the next night, a hundred people.”

Recently, spaceships were arriving at his church with newcomers to the United States. It took a while for many in other parts of the country to get in touch with the family and friends they were about to join. They booked air tickets and the church volunteers took them to the San Diego airport for the final leg of their trip. Other newcomers need somewhere to stay for a few nights because not everyone is sure about their next steps.

It was a little stressful, Medzer agreed.

“But these people are not returning to Ukraine now because it is dangerous,” he said. “I’m glad they came here.”


The Ukrainians waited two or three days for an opportunity to seek humanitarian permission on the border.

Carlos A. for NPR. Moreno


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The Ukrainians waited two or three days for an opportunity to seek humanitarian permission on the border.

Carlos A. for NPR. Moreno


The shelter for Ukrainians is run entirely by volunteers.

Carlos A. for NPR. Moreno


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The shelter for Ukrainians is run entirely by volunteers.

Carlos A. for NPR. Moreno


Ukrainian refugees arrive at a shelter in Tijuana.
Ukrainian refugees arrive at a shelter in Tijuana.

“These are my people”

At the shelter in Tijuana, Helen Davydov was eating Ukrainian food: Pitochki, Plov and Kreshka. She and other Ukrainian-Americans drove it down from Los Angeles.

She put drumsticks and fried cheesecakes on people’s plates. She tried to make eye contact with each one.

“These are my people,” she said in her voice. “It’s just people. What’s happening now is horrible. If we all do not put a little bit, it will get worse.

“This may be the last answer”

Last week, Iryna Merezhko flew from her home in Los Angeles to Warsaw, Poland. He then traveled by train to Ukraine to meet his sister and his sister’s son Ivan at a hotel. His sister had decided to stay in Ukraine to support the country’s soldiers, but Evan, 14, wanted to join his aunt in the United States.

In the hotel room, Mereshko’s sister gave her thick documents – a border agent could ask for anything imaginable as proof that Mereshko had allowed Ivan to be brought into the country. Ivan was worried about leaving his parents.

“We told him it would be a long summer vacation in California,” Mereshko said. “Disneyland! Universal Studios!”

At the hotel, they all hugged Malka in tears and promised to meet each other soon. No one spoke what everyone understood.

“We know this will be the last goodbye,” Mereshko said.

Ivan said he had left his heart in Ukraine. “My friends, my family,” he said.

But the strength of their family’s beliefs, Mereshko said, was that they had no choice. “I’m so proud of my sister.”


The children played at the Benito Juarez Sports Complex dormitory.
The children played at the Benito Juarez Sports Complex dormitory.

At the shelter, the women picked up donated clothes.
At the shelter, the women picked up donated clothes.

Ukrainians are coming to other Mexican border cities, but Tijuana – along with the world’s largest border crossing – has become a key point for Ukrainians leaving the war to enter the United States.

Carlos A. for NPR. Moreno


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Carlos A. for NPR. Moreno


Ukrainians are coming to other Mexican border cities, but Tijuana – along with the world’s largest border crossing – has become a key point for Ukrainians leaving the war to enter the United States.

Carlos A. for NPR. Moreno

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