Feb 24, 2023 - Podcasts

One year later: Millions of Ukrainians are still far from home

It's been a year since the start of Russia's war on Ukraine, and roughly 13 million Ukrainians have been displaced as a result of the conflict. Around 113,000 Ukrainians have ended up in the United States.

  • Plus, new data on the public health threats that Democrats and Republicans care about most.

Guests: Axios' Stef Kight and Margaret Talev.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Naomi Shavin, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go Deeper:


NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Friday, February 24.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re covering: new data on the public health threats that Democrats and Republicans care about most. But first: today marks one year since the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine… and millions of Ukrainians are still far from home. That’s our One Big Thing.

Millions of Ukrainians are still far from home

NIALA: The war in Ukraine has created a massive refugee crisis over the last year. The United Nations Refugee Agency calls it the largest displacement of people in Europe since World War II. Roughly 13 million Ukrainians are currently displaced from their homes -- about 5 million within Ukraine, and 8 million more across Europe.

One young mother, Olga Afanasieva, fled Kiev for Krakow, Poland at the start of the war.

OLGA AFANASIEVA: First 10 days we stayed in Kyiv with my child, with my husband. I, and I really didn't want to go. At some point I have some kind of a nervous breakdown maybe. So on the 10th day of war, I was just crying whole day through. You get exhausted with this, you know, tension and this alarms. On that point my husband said, just please take the kid and go somewhere. I have a friend, with whom we are living together right now in Krakow, and she said I'll take care. You will have some kind of place to stay, so you won't be alone.

There was no schedule of the trains at that time. But then we had, uh, information that there will be some kind of, uh, train to Warsaw. I was really in shock and was doing anything needed mechanically uh, just not to lose my kid and not to lose my stuff, though we had only two small backpacks at that point. Um, yeah, not knowing for how long do we go.

NIALA: But it would be more than 6 months before Olga went back home.

OLGA: Despite the news, despite that you understand that it's like really dangerous, you still go home and when you come home, you, it feels like it's warm and it's your place, like you're in the place where you're supposed to be. So in the end of September we went to Kyiv there was this wave of drones, uh, coming on Kyiv. And, you have this sense of danger…

NIALA: That danger forced Olga and her five-year old son back to Poland, where they remain today living with her friend, another Ukrainian refugee with a young child. Her husband, mother and grandmother are all back in Kyiv. She says she longs to return, but that in the meantime, war has changed how she looks at the city around her.

OLGA: Sometimes I had this feeling that you looks at some kind of really beautiful building and you imagine that a missile hits this building, not because you're an evil person and you want somebody else to suffer just because you never imagined before. But now you can cause you've seen this.

NIALA: Thanks to Axios Producer Naomi Shavin for that segment.

While most Ukrainian refugees are overseas, around 113,000 displaced Ukrainians have ended up here, in the United States, where Americans have been welcoming them through programs like “Uniting for Ukraine,” which connects refugees with sponsors.

I asked Axios reporter Stef Kight about the state of things one year on -- including where we're seeing the most sponsors in the U.S.

STEF: When you look at just the numbers, most Ukrainian sponsors were in kind of the big cities you would expect places like New York, et cetera. But when you look at per capita ,the most per capita people who were trying to sponsor Ukrainians were in Seattle, Washington, followed by Sacramento, California, and then Chicago, and then Detroit.

NIALA: When we think about the influx of refugees, did that peak at the beginning of the conflict or have we seen a steady number of people leaving over the last year.

STEF: Well, it depends on which pathway you're looking at. In the beginning we saw large numbers of Ukrainians even arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border and crossing there and trying to seek protection, and this was before there was really a formal process that allowed people to sponsor Ukrainians to come in through humanitarian parole. We have continued to see the numbers come in at a pretty steady pace through this parole program and we still have our normal refugee process, which is also, approving Ukrainians that come in through formal refugee resettlement.

NIALA: And that parole program means people can sponsor refugees, but so can businesses or organizations. Do we know if the majority of refugees coming in from Ukraine are they sponsored people to people? Are they through programs that are matching people up or businesses?

STEF: There's definitely a mix here and when it comes to Welcome.US, which is where a lot of people go to, to apply for sponsorship, there really are a lot of people who are family members or know someone personally who's trying to get out of Ukraine. But there have been stories of people who really just were removed by what they were seeing on the television when they were seeing the destruction that was coming as Russia was invading. I spoke to one sponsor family who really just wanted to do something, take action. They wanted to do more than fly a flag, and the sponsor I talked to just talked about how cool it was to get to bring in a family and share her home in Austin with them. And she's actually getting ready to welcome her second Ukrainian family that she sponsored to come here.

NIALA: A year into this Stef, has the Biden Administration put any limits on the numbers of Ukrainian refugees that can come?

STEF: So far we haven't seen any limits put in place. One thing that's really important to remember about the use of humanitarian parole is that it is temporary. It only lasts two years, and so depending on how long this war drags out, there could be an issue down the road where people don't have a means of staying in the U.S. legally, and that's something I'm watching very closely.

NIALA: Stef Kight covers immigration as an Axios politics reporter. Thanks Stef.

STEF: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: In a moment: the partisan divide in perceived public health threats.


New data on the public health threats that Democrats and Republicans care about most

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

Republicans are calling opioids the biggest threat to America's public health, but Democrats say it's guns. That's according to a new Axios-Ipsos Poll. Here for Friday's State of Play to talk about the partisan divide in our country over public health is Axios’ Margaret Talev. Hi Margaret.


NIALA: By the numbers. What do we know about these two public health concerns?

MARGARET: We asked Americans, what do you see as the current greatest threat to U.S. public health? And by the numbers, you've got Republicans, 37% of Republicans in fact saying, it's opioids and fentanyl. This is the biggest problem facing the country when it comes to public health and safety. Only 17% of Democrats say that. Then you've got 35% almost the mirror image of Democrats saying, no, it's guns. Guns and access to firearms are the biggest threat to public health, and 4% of Republicans agree.

NIALA: And do we know what the CDC tells us about deaths of how many Americans have died from gun violence versus drug over.

MARGARET: The CDC tells us that neither of those are the leading causes of death in the United States. In fact, you could guess this, it's heart disease and it's cancer. And then actually Covid is still a leading cause of death in the United States, recently as last year's statistics. And so what you have is a gap between reality and perception. But Niala, even if it doesn't touch cancer's numbers or heart diseases’ numbers, both gun violence and opioid addiction are serious, serious problems that cause thousands of deaths in this country. CDC estimates are that last year there were more than 107,000 drug overdose deaths, and that gun violence killed more than 44,000 Americans.

NIALA: It's also worth pointing out that a majority of Americans across the political spectrum say they do support stricter requirements for guns, right?

MARGARET: Including gun owners. Yes, that's absolutely true. And we found majorities of Republican participants in this survey saying as much as well, but it's not the same overwhelming kind of majorities. And so this is an area where politics really runs up against the policy outcomes. These overall numbers represent tens of millions of people who care deeply about these issues, these are both threats that seize lives within an instant. And that parents worry their children will fall victim to, or that people worry they will be innocent passers by essentially and become affected by, these are actually, although there are partisan gaps, these are issues that all politicians would view wise to heed. If you're looking for ways to message across the aisle, if you're looking to understand the arguments of people who say they feel forgotten or they feel afraid, this is what they're talking about.

NIALA: Margaret Talev is a senior contributor for Axios and Director of Syracuse University's Institute for Democracy Journalism and Citizenship. Thanks, Margaret.

MARGARET: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: Axios Today is produced by Fonda Mwangi, Lydia McMullen-Laird and Naomi Shavin. Our senior sound engineer is Alex Sugiura. Alexandra Botti is our supervising producer. Aja Whitaker-Moore is Axios’ executive editor, and Sara Kehaulani Goo is Axios’ editor in chief.

I’m Niala Boodhoo. Stay safe, enjoy your weekend and we’ll see you back here on Monday.

Go deeper