Local families apply to get Ukrainian refugees into the US as 'Uniting for Ukraine' application process rolls out

NOW: Local families apply to get Ukrainian refugees into the US as ’Uniting for Ukraine’ application process rolls out

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- It's been just three days since the Uniting for Ukraine program kicked off. Until now, the U.S. has taken in few Ukrainian refugees.

Monday, President Joe Biden announced Uniting for Ukraine, a streamlined process that will help any U.S. citizen who wants to sponsor a Ukrainian refugee.

People all over the country are stepping up to help the five million people and counting who are fleeing Ukraine. 

"The thing is, it's dangerous to stay, it's dangerous to move too," said Karina Tweedell. 

Tweedell is filling out the paperwork to sponsor her brother's girlfriend. Tweedell became a citizen in 2015. She says the process feels like a sped up version compared to normal immigration forms. 

"A lot simpler, the fees waved. It's free," said Tweedell. "I'm really thankful that the government decided to simplify the process significantly."

Valentyn Potapenko is applying to sponsor a family of three, complicating the process. Since there is currently no appeal process, he wants to make sure he gets it right the first time, so he's getting help from a lawyer. 

"It's kind of urgent, but you don't want to jump the gun and do it incorrectly." said Potapenko. "At the same time we want to be able to get them here if possible." 

Potapenko's family is out of Ukraine and staying in Poland for now. He says the emotional and financial support he can offer will be important over the next couple of years.

"They came back to the city with no schools and no day care because they got burnt down," said Potapenko of many of his family's hometown. 

Potapenko is also working with Wisconsin Ukrainians Inc. to provide the needed support in Ukraine and to help them rebuild overtime.

Neither Tweedell or Potapenko know how long it will take to get refugees here into the U.S. 

"Honestly it's so hard to say because it's so unpredictable," said Tweedell. 

It's a process that can usually take years to complete. Tweedell hopes it's more like months through the Uniting for Ukraine application process. 

Anyone can sponsor a refugee from Ukraine, it doesn't need to be an acquaintance

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