NYU instructor funds relocation for Ukrainians displaced by war

Safe Passage 4 Ukraine, a volunteer organization founded by NYU Abu Dhabi instructor Rachel Jamison, has assisted nearly 100 displaced Ukrainians in moving to the United States, Canada and other countries.

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Safe Passage 4 Ukraine aids families escape from their war-torn homeland. NYU Abu Dhabi professor and students founded and help run the organization. (Courtesy of Safe Passage 4 Ukraine)

Bryn Borzillo, Senior Staff Writer

Safe Passage 4 Ukraine, a volunteer-based organization founded in April by NYU Abu Dhabi instructor Rachel Jamison, has helped resettle 96 people who have been displaced from Ukraine or who have chosen to relocate to the United States and Canada. Safe Passage 4 Ukraine has also aided 18 foreign combatants in returning to their home countries, according to Jamison.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, almost 12 million Ukrainians have been forced to move to other countries. Around 7 million are internally displaced, remaining in Ukraine even after fleeing their homes. Safe Passage 4 Ukraine, which offers in person and virtual volunteer opportunities, works with nonprofits and volunteers based in Ukraine to evacuate and resettle students, scholars, former service members and others displaced by the conflict. It primarily focuses on helping Ukrainians who are cancer patients, injured, physically disabled or have young children.

“When this happened, I knew lots of students whose families were affected, or former students of mine who were suddenly under siege, and that wanted to make me get involved,” Jamison said. “The reason I set this up was, in looking at the gaps in terms of who is doing what to help Ukraine, there are people doing some amazing work, but things were not connecting. This was a program I developed to fill those gaps.”

NYU Abu Dhabi junior Addie Mae Villas, who serves as a case manager at Safe Passage 4 Ukraine, helps individuals secure transportation funds, compile travel documents and find safe places to relocate, along with other volunteers. She said she was inspired to aid Ukraine in a more tangible way after hearing about how other NYU students had been affected by the ongoing war.

“For a lot of these families, and in a lot of my cases, it’s their first time ever flying,” Villas said. “You can donate as much as you want, but it’s not the same as actually being able to help people individually.”

The organization accepts airline miles and hotel points as donations, which contribute to the purchase of plane tickets for affected families. Profiles of families or individuals who received help from Safe Passage 4 Ukraine — either monetary donations or airline miles — are featured in an archive on the organization’s website.

Individuals who are unable to volunteer or donate to the organization can contribute to its efforts in other ways, including sharing Safe Passage 4 Ukraine fundraisers or spreading awareness on social media. According to Jamison, the decline in media coverage since the start of the war has led to waning interest — and funds — in support of Ukraine.

“I’ve seen it be life-changing for people,” Jamison said. “But it is a challenge, especially now, that Ukraine is out of the headlines. People aren’t paying attention as much.”

Maria, an NYU Abu Dhabi sophomore who also volunteers with Safe Passage 4 Ukraine whose last name was omitted for safety concerns, said that she felt drawn to participate in the organization’s efforts because of her background. She said that the war has impacted her deeply, and she wanted to be as directly involved in relief efforts as possible.

“I feel very strongly, especially as a Russian, that under current circumstances, mere words of support are simply insufficient,” she said. “For me personally, for my conscience, I have to do something and that’s why I decided to join and to help. You’ve got to know why you’re doing it and you’ve got to be passionate.”

Contact Bryn Borzillo at [email protected]