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IU expert says Ukrainian refugee situation will likely impact Europe more than U.S.

Supporters of Ukraine gather outside the Sample Gates in Bloomington.
Elizabeth DeSantis
Supporters of Ukraine gather outside the Sample Gates in Bloomington.

By Mitch Legan

The United States government evacuated more than 75,000 people from Afghanistan last year to be resettled in the U.S. as part of Operation Allies Welcome.

Evacuees were placed temporarily at eight Defense Department bases around the country, including Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh. The National Guard training post held roughly 7,000 people from September through January as evacuees awaited approval to live in the United States.

READ MORE: Life after Atterbury: One Afghan evacuee shares his story

Elizabeth Cullen Dunn, who was named head of IU’s future Center for Refugee Studies, says Hoosiers shouldn’t expect the same with Ukrainian refugees, who could still be holding onto hope that they can return to their country when fighting ends.

“It's one thing to bug out to Poland or France for a few weeks, but it's quite another thing to move to the United States,” Dunn said.

Reuters reported the United Nations says Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could displace anywhere from 3 million to 5 million people. That would be the largest relocation of a population in Europe since World War II.

READ MORE: Bloomington, IU community protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Dunn is in contact with people assisting the situation on the ground in Kyiv and across the border in Poland. She said 30,000 to 50,000 people have been crossing Poland’s southeastern border daily since fighting broke out last week. More than 500,000 people have left so far.

The White House has signaled the U.S. is willing to accept refugees from Ukraine, but has not yet indicated how many would be welcomed. Indiana National Guard Master Sgt. Jeff Lowy said the state's troops have not been contacted about helping with Ukrainian refugees.

Cole Varga, director of Indiana's largest resettlement agency, Exodus Refugee Resettlement in Indianapolis, said it was too early for the organization to know if they would be asked to assist new refugees from Ukraine or how many there would be.

“The U.S. resettlement network right now is so completely over capacity with Afghans,” Dunn said. “I don't know that the U.S. resettlement network would have the capacity to handle 125,000 Ukrainians.”

Dunn predicted Ukrainians who do end up settling in the U.S. would move to places where they already have family, such as Chicago or Pittsburgh.

With roughly 19,000 residents of Ukrainian ancestry, Indianapolis has the seventh-largest Ukrainian population in the U.S.

This story has been updated with information from Exodus Refugee Resettlement. The Associated Press contributed to this story.