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Basin community steps out to help Ukrainians

by Rebecca Pettingill
Staff Writer | May 11, 2022 1:20 AM

SOAP LAKE - It all started with a teacher who saw a need.

Marni Wilks, a Soap Lake Elementary School teacher had a new kindergarten student a few weeks ago come in with little to no personal belongings. That elementary student was one of soon-to-be many Ukrainian refugees relocating to the area. Wilks said she knew she wanted to do something to help so she turned to Facebook simply asking if any of her online connections had anything they could donate to help the child and his family.

From there it snowballed.

Wilks said she had tons of people reaching out asking how they could help. So she put together places to donate items, an Amazon wish list of items, and set up a day where the Ukrainian families could come and pick out what they needed.

Nearly a month after her original post, on May 7, Wilks had the Soap Lake Elementary School gym laid out with items from household goods, to toiletries to clothes and even toys. Almost a dozen Ukrainian families came and picked up items they needed.

Tatyana Khomiak was one of those who came to the elementary school that day.

Khomiak came to Soap Lake with her four children, three of whom are under the age of five, to live with her sister-in-law.

She said their route to Soap Lake was from Ukraine to Warsaw, Poland and then a flight to Seattle.

“It's really hard, I mean we had to leave a house behind, a car behind, basically all we brought was a backpack for each child,” said Khomiak.

The house she referenced had just finished being built last year, she said She is also trying to get her husband here but he's stuck at the border until he can get permission to join his family.

“Now even just seeing all this is heartbreaking, people are really nice and it's just, I used to help people like this too when I was able to. Now I’m getting this help. It's crazy,” said Khomiak. “We thank God for this you know, it's really, I mean my heart is just full. I’m just I don't know shocked. I've never seen anything like this.”

Khomiak became emotional as she spoke about not only the hardship of leaving their home but of the kindness she has seen since.

“Mrs. Wilks has just been so helpful; I'm just amazed at people here. I mean, is Soap Lake always like this?” said Khomiak.

She noted that while her journey wasn’t easy, it was not as hard as some other refugees.

“But it's hard, it's really hard to get here because people that traveled through Mexico - it's a long route - people paid a lot of money, basically all they had just to get to Mexico because tickets are about $1,500 to $2,500 per person,” said Khomiak.

The route that Khomiak was speaking of consisted of refugees traveling from Ukraine to Poland, then Germany to Spain and from there to Mexico before traveling north to the United States and on to Soap Lake.

Despite fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, volunteer Diana Luka said most of the refugees have not been given refugee status and are currently on humanitarian parole status, which means they can only stay 18 months and then have to return to Ukraine if they do not get a visa or refugee status before that time is up.

With the help of Luka to translate, Tatyana Stuha said she and her fellow refugees weren't expecting the type of assistance the community provided. She also said Americans are good people and willing to be, “the hands and feet of Jesus.”

Wilks said she appreciated the turnout of support from the community.

“After seeing all of the pain and destruction caused from the war, being able to see all the goodness and beauty coming out in people the way they’ve reacted and donated has been an incredible experience for me,” said Wilks.

Many different groups and individuals volunteered their time and donated items to make the event possible, Wilks said - too many to name.

Wilks said she hopes to hold something like this again down the road. Anyone who would like to get involved is asked to reach out to Wilks via email at mwilks@slschools.org.

Anything that was left at the school after the refugees picked what they needed, would be going one of two places, she said. Some of the items went to storage at the Evangelical Christian Baptist Church of Soap Lake (the church that is being rebuilt after burning down last year) and mostly clothing items went to New Hope in Moses Lake.

Rebecca Pettingill can be reached via email at rpettingill@columbiabasinherald.com.

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REBECCA PETTINGILL/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

The Soap Lake Elementary School gym was full of donated items for Ukrainian refugees of the Soap Lake area to get items they need. Many left everything but a small suitcase behind.

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REBECCA PETTINGILL/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

There were children’s toys for refugees to pick out and some, like this child and his father, were eager to try them out. Many young refugees came to the area with little more than one backpack full of essentials.

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REBECCA PETTINGILL/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Any leftover items from the refugee support drive are stored at the Evangelical Christian Baptist Church of Soap Lake or were donated to New Hope in Moses Lake.