EVERETT — Van Dinh-Kuno held the phone up to her face. It was lunchtime, and she knew the landlord on the other side likely wouldn’t pick up.
“Every time they see my name, they say, ‘Oh my God, she calls again?’ ” Dinh-Kuno said with a smile.
Back in March, Refugee & Immigrant Services Northwest helped the first few Ukrainian refugees who arrived in Snohomish County. Months later, the number of arrivals has ballooned.
“I’ve never seen this kind of need in my career, and I’ve had a long career in helping refugees,” said Dinh-Kuno, executive director of the nonprofit. “Nothing prepares you for the influx of this scale.”
The county-contracted service, based out of Everett Community College, normally welcomes about 300 refugees each year. But they’ve seen more than that in just the past few months, as families fleeing the war in Ukraine seek safety here.
And they’re arriving “with nothing,” Dinh-Kuno said. Families need things like bedding, laundry detergent and bath towels. The nonprofit is “desperate for diapers,” and is asking community members to help with donations.
Across the state, Ukrainians seeking help from the state Department of Social and Health Services has increased dramatically, from 624 in March to 6,618 in June. Snohomish, King, Clark and Pierce counties are welcoming especially high numbers of Ukrainian refugees, according to the agency.
Everett Community College and Edmonds College have added more English classes this summer to meet the need.
Meanwhile, Dinh-Kuno’s team of 14 is calling landlords around the clock to find open rental space. Government money helps pay the rent for a few months while families wait for work permits to be approved. That process can be lengthy and unpredictable.
“We’re at the mercy of the immigration agency,” Dinh-Kuno said.
So far, the county has found permanent housing for about 70 families. Hundreds more are waiting, living with family or friends in tight quarters, sometimes 15 people in a three-bedroom home.
Dinh-Kuno has a red folder overflowing with rental applications for Ukrainian families. Another folder is labeled “COSTCO,” with receipts for things like cribs, dressers and chairs the county is helping new arrivals to buy.
Last week, the county connected three generations of Ukrainian refugees with permanent housing in Snohomish.
Olesia Tanasiichuk, her mother Alla Zhdanuk and two daughters Liliia, 14, and Nina, 9, used an interpreter to speak with their new landlord in an Everett Community College classroom.
Julie Mackoff, a retired lawyer, was offering a guest house on her rural parcel.
“It’s small,” Mackoff warned the family. Through an interpreter, she told them about the one-bedroom lofted home. It has one big bed and a twin downstairs between the kitchen and laundry area. They would have to come up with another mattress to fit all of them. But it’s more spacious than where they’re staying now, with Tanasiichuk’s brother in Everett.
And Mackoff is letting them live there rent-free for now.
“All my grandparents were refugees from Ukraine or Russia,” she said. “And we’re just really horrified at what’s happening. And we have this space we can offer.”
It’s not on any bus routes, so Tanasiichuk would have to figure out a way to get to the grocery store and the doctor, Mackoff told the family.
Zhdanuk, 68, mimicked riding a bicycle. She put her hands together and gestured a “thank you” to Mackoff.
“I love you,” Zhdanuk told her.
The family moved in this week. The property has a few horses and dense trees. It reminded Tanasiichuk of their home, where they used to live in northwest Ukraine. Liliia rode horses there. The family raised pigs and grew potatoes and garlic.
“It’s nice,” Tanasiichuk said through an interpreter, standing on the front porch of her new home.
Tanasiichuk has two sons still in Ukraine, an 18- and 20-year old. They’re both working, one at a kind of post office. But the family is worried they might be ordered to join the army as the war progresses.
“That makes me nervous,” Tanasiichuk said.
But she’s keeping in good spirits.
She’s enjoying her English classes, and her mother is meeting other Ukrainians at their church in Mukilteo.
She sees the many challenges of fleeing Ukraine as making life more interesting.
“If there were no challenges,” she said, “life would almost be boring to live.”
Want to help?
Refugee & Immigrant Services Northwest is looking for donations of household supplies, including cookware, bedding, towels and diapers. Staff is also looking for property owners who have rental space for incoming refugees.
Drop off supplies at the main office at Everett Community College: 2000 Tower St., Rainier Building Room No. 228. Or call 425-388-9307.
More resources can be found on the state’s Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance webpage.