May 8, 2023 - News

Ukrainian refugees find homes and fill jobs in Mass.

Alina Chernyakova, a Ukrainian refugee, holds her luggage and a small Ukrainian flag as she waves to volunteers at Boston Logan Airport. On the right, is a former refugee who now works for the nonprofit Alight.

Alina Chernyakova was greeted at Logan Airport by nonprofit leaders, volunteers from Temple Beth Shalom and U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss. Photo: Steph Solis/Axios

Alina Chernyakova, a Ukrainian education expert, lost her home, her husband and her livelihood after the Russian invasion. But she rolled through Logan Airport on Thursday with a renewed sense of purpose.

What’s happening: Chernyakova arrived in Boston ready to start her job as a teacher at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, thanks to a coalition of nonprofits behind the Jobs Sponsorship Program, which secures jobs for refugees as soon as they arrive.

Why it matters: Accelerated job placement means one less hurdle for refugees to overcome when they come to the U.S. — and one less job vacancy as the nation grapples with a persistent labor shortage.

For Chernyakova, the ability to dive into work within days of her arrival offers a much-needed change of scenery. “I’m a very active person, and for me, the [depression], it’s not suitable for me,” she said.

The big picture: Chernyakova joins more than 117,000 Ukrainians who came to the U.S. under the Biden administration’s Uniting for Ukraine program, but she’s one of the first to enter the country with a job in hand.

  • The Jobs Sponsorship Program, led by the Minneapolis-based nonprofit Alight, builds on U4U by fast-tracking the job placement process for incoming Ukrainian refugees.
  • The coalition behind the program will welcome a second Ukrainian refugee, who will work at the education company Bright Horizons, at Logan today.

What they’re saying: “The elegance of this program is at the case-work level. It doesn’t require that they fight through a maze of bureaucracy,” U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss, who welcomed Chernyakova at the airport, told Axios.

  • “It doesn’t just have to be with Ukraine,” he added. “We’re doing it right now, starting with Ukraine, but it can be replicated.”

Zoom in: The Russian invasion torpedoed Chernyakova’s old life. She had written books on child behavior and taught at Sumy State University in Ukraine. After the war started, her son fled to Lisbon to stay with relatives. She and her husband, who had cancer, spent weekdays in a bomb shelter. He died earlier this year.

Alina Chernyakova, a Ukrainian refugee, speaks to two volunteers she met virtually before coming to Boston. The voluneers are members of Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, where Alina will work as a teacher.
Alina Chernyakova, left, meets volunteers Irene Berlinsky and Igor Khislavsky last week at Logan Airport. Berlinsky and Khislavsky, members of Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, grew up in Connecticut as refugees who fled the former Soviet Union. Photo: Steph Solis/Axios

When she connected with Alight, Chernyakova learned she could qualify for not only housing and other refugee benefits but also a guaranteed job upon arrival.

  • The U.S. approved Chernyakova’s refugee application and, in late April, she took a bus to Lisbon to say goodbye to her son and board a plane to Boston.
  • Jewish Family Service of Metrowest secured housing. The Shapiro Foundation spread the word to the temple, and other volunteers helped furnish the house.

Yes, but: The effort to welcome Chernyakova is not just an act of charity, but also a potential solution for some employers desperately seeking workers.

  • “The women that are coming are highly accomplished; they’re coming to fill an employment need,” says Rob Andrews, a temple member who helped furnish Chernyakova’s new home. “Her educational background is clearly really impressive, and that’s exciting as a parent. You want your kids to be with interested and educated and creative teachers.”
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