Opinion | America can do more for Ukrainians than wear blue and yellow — starting with protecting those already here – The Washington Post

During President Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, the state of bipartisan support for the Ukrainian people appeared to be strong.
Several in the House chamber were wearing blue and yellow, the colors of Ukraine’s flag. Others waved actual Ukrainian flags. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, was the special guest of first lady Jill Biden and received a standing ovation.
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The U.S. president opened his speech by praising the resiliency of Ukrainians. “From President Zelensky to every Ukrainian, their fearlessness, their courage, their determination, literally inspires the world,” Biden said. “Groups of citizens blocking tanks with their bodies. Everyone from students to retirees to teachers turned soldiers defending their homeland.” He implored the audience in the room to stand up and show that, “Yes, we the United States of America stand with the Ukrainian people.”
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It is true that those standing up to unjustified invasion deserve applause for bravery and courage in the face of peril. But we must be wary of overly romanticizing Ukrainians’ struggles in a way that absolves the international community of its moral responsibilities to provide shelter to those fleeing war. Ukrainians deserve more than just symbolic appearances of solidarity. If the Biden administration really wants to stand with Ukrainians, it should grant temporary protected status (TPS) to Ukrainians already in the United States — and shield them from having to go back to an active war zone.
Temporary protected status is a humanitarian designation that allows foreign nationals to stay in the United States because of unsafe conditions in their home countries, such as military conflict, environmental disaster or other crises. The United States has given a dozen countries this status: Syria, Yemen, Haiti, Honduras, Venezuela, Somalia, El Salvador, Sudan, South Sudan, Nicaragua, Myanmar and Nepal. Some efforts are underway to add Ukraine to the list: A bipartisan group of more than three dozen U.S. senators sent a letter to Biden on Monday calling for a TPS designation for Ukrainians already in the United States. Russia’s offensive in Ukraine has killed at least 353 civilians, the senators wrote. Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said Wednesday that 2,000 civilians have died.
So far, Biden has not signaled whether his administration would grant this designation to Ukrainians (even though the United States has closed its embassy in Ukraine’s capital and warns against traveling to Ukraine). It’s hard to imagine bipartisan opposition toward such a designation. In fiscal 2020, the most recent year for which data are available, only about 30,000 Ukrainians, including students, business people and tourists, were given temporary U.S. visas. And the outpouring of sympathy for European-looking Ukrainians — so-called good refugees, according to some in Western media — should at least ease the way for the protection of Ukrainians already here. This would be a tangible way to provide substantive aid for Ukrainians — support that goes beyond blue and yellow outfits, Twitter emoji and tough talk about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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Of course, the Biden administration has not been the picture of moral health when it comes to people seeking shelter in the United States. None of us should forget the horrific images of U.S. Border Patrol officials on horseback chasing Haitian migrants near the border and the deportation of Haitian migrants by the planeload — while Biden’s own homeland security secretary used right-wing, xenophobic talking points that Haitians migrants posed a covid threat.
What’s easy to miss amid the social media outpouring and the color-coordinated outfits is that protecting freedom around the world requires more than military power and economic sanctions. Deporting people back to an active war zone is a compounding of cruelty. Refusing to allow refugees to seek shelter because of their skin color is a violation of both dignity and human rights — a cruelty that Africans fleeing Ukraine are facing right now. The United States should offer protections to Ukrainians as long as the Russian invasion rages — and set an example for the rest of the world to do the same. The sad reality is that this should have happened years ago, when fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine, before conflict led to thousands of civilian deaths. But the world did not hear Ukraine’s cries then as it does now.
So let the solidarity be more than sanctions and blue and yellow lapel pins. Protecting Ukrainians already here from deportation is the very least the United States can do.
The latest: Russian forces advanced the in South on Friday, as NATO and U.S. see darker days ahead in Ukraine.
The fight: As Ukraine’s war intensifies and spreads into multiple cities, the casualties are mounting — including civilians. Moscow is facing allegations that it has used cluster and vacuum weapons.
Maps: Russia’s assault on Ukraine has been extensive with strikes and attacks across the entire country. Much of the Russian onslaught has focused on Kyiv, but the eastern city of Kharkiv — with 1.5 million residents — is also crucial.
The response: A new iron curtain is descending across Russia’s Internet after online access was curtailed by Russian censors and Western businesses. Russian aircraft have been banned from flying in European Union, American and Canadian airspace. And sweeping sanctions have caused the Russian ruble to plunge.
How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can help support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.
Read our full coverage of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
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