When Russian troops invaded Ukraine last February more than eight million Ukrainians were displaced within their country, and another eight million people had fled the country by February of this year. The United Nations has called this the largest European refugee crisis since World War II.

Many of the Ukrainians fleeing the war-torn country have made their way to the United States, including several refugees who are living in the Philadelphia area.

Katherine Baumgardner, administrator of the Bucks County Family Service Center of Catholic Social Services located in Levittown, said Ukrainians have settled throughout the Philadelphia region.

“The highest density of populations is in Bucks County and Northeast Philadelphia because there are established Ukrainian communities in those areas prior to the war breaking out with Russia,” Baumgardner said.

She explained that CSS works with other resettlement agencies in Philadelphia to coordinate services for the Ukrainian refugees to avoid a duplication of services. A newcomer hotline is managed by Nationalities Service Center (NSC), and CSS receives referrals directly from NSC. Other agencies that CSS coordinates with are Bethany Christian Services and HIAS Pennsylvania.

The Bucks County office began assisting Ukrainian refugees last October through its ‘Support for U’ program. Through this program, Ukrainian newcomers receive help with applying for Social Security cards, obtaining an employment authorization card (EAD), applying to receive cash assistance, and registering for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, she said.

The CSS staff also help with enrolling children in schools and connecting individuals and families to area resources to help them find housing and employment.

After housing has been secured, CSS assists with obtaining furnishings and other household items.

“What I think is unique about Catholic Social Services is that we really try to set up the home for them,” Baumgardner said. “We help provide things you would make a home with – linens, dishes, towels, etc.”

The center is currently assisting 14 households that are made up of adults, older adults, and children. Baumgardner said when Ukrainians come into the office for the first time, making them feel welcome is a priority.

“We will give them food because we have Mary’s Cupboard here on site,” she said. “If they need food, a group of volunteers will pack up an order just to be welcoming and hospitable and give them something when they arrive. It’s more than just helping them fill out paperwork. We really try to be supportive and ease that burden because they just went through such traumatic experiences.”

The staff also has helped the refugees understand the culture in the Philadelphia area, which was particularly important when the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl last month.

Baumgardner said fireworks were going off in neighborhoods, and it was traumatizing to some of the refugees who had witnessed bombings in their country.

Baumgardner emphasized how appreciative the immigrants are when they receive assistance.

“I find that the Ukrainian people to be some of the most humble, hardworking people that I’ve encountered in all my years in Social Services,” she said.

“They’re not trying to get on public assistance and stay there. They want to work, and they’re grateful for the help.”