New organization aims to help Russian refugees

Nov. 2—A married Russian couple is seeking asylum in the United States and group of Delaware County residents is trying to help.

The newly formed Delaware County Citizens for Refugee Support organization will hold a talk about the two doctors they are trying to resettle in Delaware County from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 4, at Bushel Collective at 106 Main Street in Delhi.

Boris Shevchuk and Maria Shemiatina lived near the Finland border and were supporters of Alexei Navalny's opposition to Vladimir Putin's regime and protested the war in Ukraine, Dan Gashler of Delhi, said. Their family was harassed by police quite a bit and police threatened them, he said. The couple, who are in their late 20s, fled Russia, traveled to Mexico and crossed the U.S. border in April to seek asylum, he said. They were arrested at the border and sent to a detention facility in Louisiana, he said.

Gashler, a history professor at SUNY Delhi, speaks Russian and volunteers two hours every Thursday evening for the Freedom for Immigrants organization. One night he received a call from Shevchuk asking for help as his wife's health was failing.

"Maria is suffering with severe health issues," Gashler said. "In order to get her medical care, Boris went on a one-week hunger strike. It still took a while for her to be seen."

He said Shemiatina blacked out one day and was unconscious for four to six hours before she was taken to the hospital for medical care. She spent a week in the hospital, went back to the detention center and returned to the hospital for another two weeks, he said. "Boris is incredibly concerned about her health," he said

Bovina resident Esther Lee said they had hoped Shemiatina would be released on humanitarian parole because of her health, but she wasn't. In order to be released from the detention center both Shevchuk and Shemiatina have to post $10,000 bond, Gashler said.

The organization is raising money for their bonds and to help them settle, which includes paying for groceries and rent before the two are allowed to apply for work visas. Shevchuk is an epidemiologist and Shemiatina is a radiologist, Gashler said. Sangetta Pratap of Bovina said the organization is trying to figure out how their medical licenses can be transferred to the U.S.

Pratap and Lee formed the organization on Oct. 9, 2021 as they both wanted to help refugees coming to the United States. Mina Takahashi of Delhi and Gashler also joined the organization and all are pleased with the outpouring of community support they have received.

"We all have the shared value that we want to live a life of peace and dignity," Pratap said. "It's a core value of anyone living in the country."

Gashler said short-term housing in Delhi has been secured and Pratap said an English as a Second Language teacher has volunteered to teach Shevchuk English. "This is a group effort," Pratap said. "It is strenghening the bonds of the community, whether you just moved here or lived here forever."

Takahashi said the event at Bushel Friday night will tell the couple's story, will show a video interview Gashler had with Shevchuk, complete with English subtitles, open a discussion about the organization's plans and seek volunteers. She said the volunteers will "help Maria and Boris transition from that experience to a more welcoming community setting." The event will be recorded for future views, Lee said.

The organization created a Go Fund Me page with the goal to raise $25,000 at https://tinyurl.com/34fn4f2p. For more information about the organization, email delcocrs@gmail.com.

Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at vklukkert@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221.