A special collection at parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has raised more than $1 million in donations for Ukrainian humanitarian relief. 

As of April 21, online donations, checks, and cash received during Masses in the archdiocese on the weekends of March 12-13 and March 19-20 totaled just over $985,000, while another $17,000 was added through school collections coordinated by the Missionary Childhood Association of Los Angeles.

Msgr. Terrance Fleming, executive director of the archdiocese’s Mission Office, said he couldn’t remember any collection this large in his 30 years in the office, noting past initiatives that have focused mostly on recovery from natural disasters in different parts of the world. 

“Every dollar goes straight to the source [in the affected country] that can use it best,” he explained. 

The archdiocese’s Society for Propagation of the Faith, one of four Pontifical Mission Societies that support worldwide underserved communities, has managed the donations. They are forwarded to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and will be added to a nationwide collection sent directly to Ukraine’s Catholic bishops’ conference.

Msgr. Fleming, who is also serving as episcopal vicar for the Our Lady of the Angels Pastoral Region following the February retirement of Auxiliary Bishop Edward Clark, said the funds will help meet the “basic needs” of Ukrainians suffering the consequences of Russia’s two-month-old invasion.

“Hopefully, the people of Los Angeles see this money as their missionary work to a country that is almost all Christian and has a good many Catholics,” he said. 

More than 5 million Ukrainians have fled the country this year, according to a United Nations report, but many millions remain despite the thousands of lives lost and mounting injuries since Russia’s invasion started in late February. It is less clear how many displaced Ukrainians have made it beyond the neighboring borders of Poland, Romania, and Hungary, and found refuge in the United States, or specifically, Southern California.

A volunteer carries a box of clothing for refugees who fled the Russian war in Ukraine at a donation collection point organized by a Ukrainian Catholic parish in Dresden, Germany, March 17, 2022. (CNS photo/Matthias Rietschel, Reuters)

California is home to more Ukrainian immigrants than anywhere in the U.S. after New York, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. One in six Ukrainian immigrants to the U.S. — some 60,000 — live in California.

Father Ihor Koshyk, pastor at the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in East Hollywood, said it was his understanding when those fleeing Ukraine arrive in Southern California, “they have some contacts already, some at local churches. I hear from different people there is one family here, another there, but it is not complete.”

He added that a parishioner at his church told him of a family they are helping in Long Beach that includes a mother, a grandmother, a 1-year-old and a six-month-old baby.

Kris Knowles, the principal at American Martyrs School in Manhattan Beach, confirmed two students have recently enrolled — a sixth-grader and a first-grader — from a recently arrived Ukrainian family.

Knowles said two American Martyrs Church parishioners approached him and pastor Msgr. John Barry to share the story of the family, which also has two younger children not yet in school.

The family said they had less than 30 minutes to evacuate their home, drove for hours out of their country and eventually made it to Los Angeles after several flights.

“By chance, they connected with our parishioners,” said Knowles. “After hearing their story there was no question we would welcome the children. They have already been here three days and are acclimating well.”

Data provided to the USCCB’s Migration and Refugees Services office shows “that hundreds of Ukrainians are entering through the U.S.-Mexico border monthly after being granted parole, mostly at the San Diego Port of Entry.”

The U.S. has pledged to accept 100,000 Ukrainians displaced by the war. On April 21, the Biden administration announced a resettlement plan for Ukrainian refugees that bypasses lengthy visa programs and discourages arrivals through Mexico.

USCCB spokeswoman Chieko Noguchi told Angelus that part of the difficulty with tracking arrivals from Ukraine is that so far, most are not formally entering as refugees.

“Those connecting with parishes or Catholic Charities agencies are generally doing so of their own accord or after being referred by family or friends,” said Noguchi. “Unfortunately, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is not well placed for large-scale emergency resettlement, and we understand a majority will resettle in the U.S. via alternative pathways and not as refugees.”

Anyone interested in donating online can do so at MissionsLA.org/product/donate-1312/ and specify “Ukraine Disaster” in the memo box. For more information, email [email protected] or call (213) 637-7223.