Ukrainian refugees at camp in Mexico City await US action

May 2, 2022, 9:00 PM | Updated: 9:19 pm
A Ukrainian refugee walks with his children at a camp in Utopia Park, Iztapalapa, Mexico City, Mond...

A Ukrainian refugee walks with his children at a camp in Utopia Park, Iztapalapa, Mexico City, Monday, May 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

(AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — On a dusty field on the east side of Mexico’s sprawling capital, some 500 Ukrainian refugees are waiting in large tents under a searing sun for the United States government to tell them they can come.

The camp has only been open a week and 50 to 100 people are arriving every day. Some have already been to the U.S. border in Tijuana where they were told they would no longer be admitted. Others arrived at airports in Mexico City or Cancun, anywhere they could find a ticket from Europe.

“We are asking the U.S. government to process faster,” said Anastasiya Polo, co-founder of United with Ukraine, a nongovernmental organization, that collaborated with the Mexican government to establish the camp. She said that after a week’s time none of the refugees there “are even close to the end of the program.”

The program, Uniting for Ukraine, was announced by the U.S. government April 21. Four days later, Ukrainians showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border were no longer exempted from a pandemic-related rule that has been used to quickly expel migrants without an opportunity to seek asylum for the past two years.

Instead, they would have to apply from Europe or other countries such as Mexico. To qualify people must have been in Ukraine as of Feb. 11; have a sponsor, which could be family or an organization; meet vaccination and other public health requirements; and pass background checks.

Polo said U.S. government officials had told her it should take a week to process people, but it appeared like it was just beginning. Some of the first arrivals had received emails from the U.S. government acknowledging they received their documents and the documents of their sponsors, but she had heard of no sponsors being approved yet.

“These people cannot stay in this camp, because it is temporary,” Polo said. More than 100 of the camp’s residents are children.

Nearly 5.5 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded its smaller neighbor on Feb. 24, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Giorgi Mikaberidze, 19, is among the waiting. He arrived in Tijuana April 25 and found the U.S. border closed. He complained that the U.S. government had given so little notice, because many people like himself were already in transit. He went from being just yards from the United States to some 600 miles (966 kilometers) now.

When the U.S. government announced in late March that it would accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, hundreds entered Mexico daily as tourists in Mexico City or Cancun and flew to Tijuana to wait for a few days – eventually only a few hours – to be admitted to the U.S. at a San Diego border crossing on humanitarian parole. Appointments at U.S. consulates in Europe were scarce, and refugee resettlement takes time, making Mexico the best option.

Traveling through Mexico was circuitous, but a loose-knit group of volunteers, largely from Slavic churches in the western United States, greeted refugees at the Tijuana airport and shuttled them to a recreation center that the city of Tijuana made available for several thousand to wait. A wait of two to four days was eventually shortened to a few hours as U.S. border inspectors whisked Ukrainians in.

That special treatment ended the day Mikaberidze arrived in Tijuana.

“We want to go to America because (we’re) already here, some don’t have even money to go back,” he said.

Mikaberidze was visiting relatives in Georgia, south of Ukraine, when the Russian invasion occurred and was not able to return. His mother remains in their village near Kharkhov in eastern Ukraine, afraid to leave her home because Russian troops indiscriminately shoot up cars traveling in the area, he said.

“She said it’s a very dangerous situation,” said Mikaberidze, who traveled to Mexico alone.

The Mexico City camp provides a safe place to wait. It was erected inside a large sports complex, so Ukrainians could be seen pushing strollers with children along sidewalks, playing soccer and volleyball, even swimming.

However, the refugees have been warned that while they are free to leave the complex, no one is responsible for their safety. Iztapalapa, the capital’s most populated borough, is also one of its most dangerous.

The Mexican government was providing security at the camp with about 50 officers, Polo said. The Navy had also set up a mobile kitchen to provide meals.

She said they felt safe inside the camp, but were asking the government about the possibility of moving the camp to a safer area.

Mykhailo Pasternak and his girlfriend Maziana Hzyhozyshyn, waited at the entrance to the complex Monday afternoon. Both suffering from an apparent head cold, they planned to move to a hotel for a day or two to try to get some sleep and recover before returning to the camp.

Pasternak had left the U.S. to help Hzyhozyshyn get in. The two had spent several days in Tijuana before flying to Mexico City and arriving at the camp Sunday.

The couple stood out on the streets of Iztapalapa and appeared to be withering under the relentless sun. The couple had known each other for six years.

“She’s my love,” Pasternak said.


AP writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Ten-year-old Greyson Goldstein stands outside Ball Arena before Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cu...
Associated Press

NHL experiencing sustained growth with female, younger fans

One of the biggest stories in the NHL this season has been the increase in viewers in the league’s first year of its television contracts with ESPN and TNT. The league is also seeing unparalleled growth in female and younger fans that should have a big impact for years to come. According to NHL research, […]
24 hours ago
FIFA President Gianni Infantino answers questions during a 2026 soccer World Cup news conference Th...
Associated Press

Group asks for living wages, labor rights for 2026 World Cup

With this year’s World Cup in Qatar clouded by labor and human rights issues, there’s a push for the North American cities awarded games for the 2026 tournament to commit to livable wages, equitable hiring and worker protection. The Dignity 2026 coalition has brought together groups including the AFL-CIO, Human Rights Watch and the Independent […]
24 hours ago
FILE - Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, center, and his wife Fran, right, talk with specialist Emily Milosevi...
Associated Press

Army Guard troops risk dismissal as vaccine deadline looms

WASHINGTON (AP) — Up to 40,000 Army National Guard soldiers across the country — or about 13% of the force — have not yet gotten the mandated COVID-19 vaccine, and as the deadline for shots looms, at least 14,000 of them have flatly refused and could be forced out of the service. Guard soldiers have […]
24 hours ago
Karen Sloan said she's a registered Republican who backs abortion rights, Friday, June 24, 2022 in ...
Associated Press

Dems hope to harness outrage, sadness after abortion ruling

YARDLEY, Pa. (AP) — The shock quickly turned to sadness for Victoria Lowe. The 37-year-old lawyer, working outside a cafe in suburban Bucks County, Pennsylvania, said she couldn’t believe the Supreme Court stripped away the constitutional right to abortion that women have had her entire life. She started to cry. “I don’t understand how they […]
24 hours ago
Associated Press

Today in History: June 25, Anne Frank’s diary published

Today in History Today is Saturday, June 25, the 176th day of 2022. There are 189 days left in the year. Today’s Highlight in History: On June 25, 1876, Lt. Col. Colonel George A. Custer and his 7th Cavalry were wiped out by Sioux and Cheyenne Indians in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in […]
24 hours ago
FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Hong Kong's new Chief Executive Carrie Lam attend th...
Associated Press

China’s Xi to visit Hong Kong for handover anniversary

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping will visit Hong Kong to celebrate next week’s 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China following a crackdown on a pro-democracy movement that has inflamed tension with Washington and Europe. Xi will attend an anniversary gathering and the first meeting of the new government of […]
24 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

ADHS mobile program brings COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Arizonans

The Arizona Department of Health Services and partner agencies are providing even more widespread availability by making COVID-19 vaccines available in neighborhoods through trusted community partners.
Ukrainian refugees at camp in Mexico City await US action