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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ukrainians continue to pour into Spokane where large Slavic community welcomes them

Newly arrived Ukrainians enjoy a Thanksgiving potluck at Pacific Keep Church.  (Courtesy of Boris Borisov)

Slavic immigrants and refugees have landed in Spokane for decades, creating a vibrant community that is now welcoming Ukrainians as they flee the war in their homeland.

In the late 1980s and early 2000s, Slavic immigrants fleeing religious persecution settled in the Spokane area. Earlier this year, one pastor estimated that as many as 50,000 Slavic people live in the region.

Pastor of Pacific Keep Church, Boris Borisov, was one of the first to organize the existing community to help support fleeing Ukrainians. Not long after, Mark Finney founded Thrive International, a nonprofit that quickly received a grant from the Washington state Department of Commerce to open the Thrive Center, a hotel for refugees serving as transitional housing.

About 2,500 Ukrainians have arrived in Spokane since the war began early this year, said Anna Bondarenko, Thrive Center’s assistant manager.

Since opening in June, Thrive has served nearly 1,000 people. The Thrive Center has 95 rentable rooms that are completely full with a waiting list of nearly 40 families.

The first wave of Ukrainians arrived in the United States through the Mexico border on humanitarian parole, Borisov said. There weren’t many resources available to them and their work authorizations sometimes took more than six months.

A change to the process last week allowed most Ukrainians to begin working immediately with just their entry documents, Bondarenko said.

The Thrive Center was key to helping those immigrants get on their feet, he said.

Then the federal United for Ukraine program took off, which gave Ukrainians more support, Borisov said. People arriving through the program got their work authorizations within three to six weeks, he said.

Many of the early arrivals to Spokane are taking English classes, their children are enrolled in school and they’re working to integrate into Spokane, Borisov said.

His church, like many other Slavic churches, has grown with dozens of new members. Recently, Pacific Keep held a Thanksgiving potluck where hundreds of people chatted, ate and made new friends.

While the flow of Ukrainians coming to Spokane has slowed, Borisov estimates another 1,000 people will arrive over the course of the next year.

The Thrive Center has a decent turnover rate but a constant wait list remains. The nonprofit is hosting a fundraiser called “A Home for the Holidays” next month in hopes of raising money to help more immigrants next year.

The nonprofit also began offering monthly volunteer training and recently completed a coat drive.

With four to five Ukrainian families arriving in Spokane each week, there’s always more to do, Borisov said.