Many Ukrainians make Western New York their refuge

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Many of the Ukrainians who fled their home when Russia invaded in late February have already found refuge in Western New York.

News10NBC talked to one man whose been helping these war refugees find local host families willing to take them in and help them get back on their feet again. In addition to all that, a special dinner is also being planned for this Thursday for these host families, and the newly arrived Ukrainians who have been here for several days now.

"I’m trying to relocate as many people as I can because some of these people are like where should I go?" said Shane Smith, a Rochesterian now living in San Diego.

As Russian forces continue their war in Ukraine, refugees have been moving half a world away and resettling in both the Buffalo, and Greater Rochester areas with the help Smith.

"I’m trying to get these people there because I have friends. I have family. I have people with big hearts, and I know will step up, and help make this transition a little bit easier," Smith said.

News10NBC was sent pictures of some of the families Smith has helped placed throughout the area. These families left their homeland and then arrived in Tijuana, Mexico. They successfully crossed the border before it was closed. Smith was able to help 18 different families.

"We placed them in hotels. We kind of assessed what their needs were, and then we brought airline tickets, put them on a plane wherever they need to go. So they could be with family and friends," Smith said.

He credits a Southwest Airlines flight attendant who shelled out $16,000 of her own money to pay for those tickets. About 25 families are current here in Western New York. On Thursday they will all be reunited here at the Doubletree Hotel in Rochester.

"We’re having a welcome dinner for all the families that will meet other people throughout the community that will take them to their final destinations. Some of them will be in Buffalo, some will remain here in Rochester," said Tricia Kolb, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Hotel.

The hotel located on Jefferson Road is also accepting donations from the community to help out these families. Everything from non-perishable food, to gift cards can be dropped off at the hotel.

"Together with the Care Committee we have clothes as well for them. Anything that folks can drop off to the hotel today thru Thursday, anytime would be greatly appreciated. They literally have nothing," Kolb said.

Smith tells us he’s still working on trying to get another 18 families that are currently stuck in Mexico, due to the border being closed for now.

In the meantime, he and his son are traveling back here to Rochester by car from California.