Ukrainians Face Delays and Roadblocks as They Try to Enter California

As the war in Ukraine stretches on longer than many anticipated, California’s southern border has increasingly become a destination for refugees from the war-torn country.

Thousands of Ukrainians are traveling to Mexico to ask immigration officials for asylum in the United States. But crossing from Tijuana into San Diego has proved far from simple.

Refugees wait days in the border city to be allowed entry into California. Some sleep in tents or on the floor of converted gyms. Many have been told they must leave their pets behind in Mexico.

And, as my colleague Miriam Jordan reported in today’s newspaper, dozens of Ukrainian children are now being separated from friends and relatives at the border because of a law devised to prevent migrant children from being trafficked.

When Iryna Merezhko, a Los Angeles resident, retrieved her nephew from Ukraine and traveled with him to Tijuana, U.S. border agents told them they would have to be separated because Merezhko was not his parent.

Officials promised it would be for only a few days. But it took 10 days for Merezhko simply to learn her nephew’s whereabouts.

Central American children, often fleeing gang violence, have for years felt the brunt of this federal law. Now, Miriam writes, “for Ukrainian children, the separation from their caretakers has been an unexpected, shocking twist in their escape from a war zone.”

Since Russia’s invasion began almost eight weeks ago, more than 4.9 million Ukrainians have escaped their country, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. On Tuesday, Russia began a concerted effort to capture the eastern part of Ukraine, while the United States and its allies scrambled to supply Ukraine with more advanced weapons to defend itself.

The story of Merezhko and her nephew is just one example of how the Ukrainian refugee crisis has begun to play out in pockets of California.

Some Californians have turned their homes into way stations for refugees filtering into the state. The Ukrainian community in Sacramento has mobilized to provide support. A church in the San Diego area has been converted into a place to sleep for new arrivals with nowhere else to go.

California is home to more Ukrainian immigrants — 60,000 — than anywhere in the country after New York, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. About one in six Ukrainian immigrants in the United States resides in the Golden State.

Merezhko has lived in the United States since 2014 and works as a pharmacy technician. She persuaded her sister in the besieged city of Kharkiv to let her son wait out the war in Los Angeles. She would travel with him to Mexico, where he would seek permission to enter the United States.

Though President Biden announced last month that the United States would accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, details about the program have not been released. So those who can afford the journey are traveling to Mexico, a country they can enter without a visa, to try to seek asylum in the United States, a country they cannot.

“I told him it would be a California vacation,” Merezhko told Miriam. “We would go to Disneyland, Universal Studios, the beach.”

But for now, Ivan is still in a shelter without a release date.

If you want to keep up with the latest on Ukraine, you can follow breaking news from The New York Times here, or sign up for our nightly email about the conflict.

  • A.S.U. in L.A.: Arizona State University is looking to fill a void for students who were not accepted at California’s public universities. Its newest campus is in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles Times reports.

  • Assault investigation: In 2016, California State University’s Humboldt campus fired a dean after determining he groped and tried to forcibly kiss two female colleagues. But less than six months later, he was reinstated as a tenured professor because of a clause in his contract, according to a USA Today investigation.

  • Mask mandates: San Francisco is keeping mask requirements in place for public transit, despite a relaxing of federal rules.


  • Avant killer sentenced: The man who fatally shot Jacqueline Avant, a philanthropist and the wife of the music producer Clarence Avant, in her home in Beverly Hills was sentenced to 190 years in prison.

  • Housing program: The Los Angeles Community College District will fund a $1.5 million pilot program to provide housing for more than 100 students who are homeless or housing insecure, The Los Angeles Times reports.

  • Riverside schools settlement: The Riverside Unified School District has agreed to pay $13.75 million to settle civil lawsuits over a worker who admitted to molesting elementary school students, The Associated Press reports.


  • Floodplain restoration: The Associated Press writes about California’s largest single floodplain restoration project, part of the nation’s broadest effort to rethink how rivers flow as climate change alters the environment.


  • San Francisco police: Two San Francisco police officers and one retired officer were arrested on Tuesday and accused of crimes including illegal possession of a machine gun and destroying evidence, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

  • DNA evidence: After it was revealed that the San Francisco police used a sexual assault victim’s DNA against her in an unrelated case, city leaders on Tuesday unanimously voted to prohibit the police from storing DNA obtained from rape kits in city-run databases, The Associated Press reports.

  • The college at San Quentin: The Associated Press writes about the first accredited junior college located inside of a prison.

A Times reporter toured a new luxury building for seniors in San Francisco.

Tejal Rao, The Times’s California restaurant critic, writes that in West Oakland, barbecue is back — with a side of fried chicken.

Today’s tip comes from Charles Holt, who recommends staying at Point Cabrillo Light Station on the Mendocino Coast:

“There is no place quieter or with better views than this place. The lodging is ‘spartan’ to say the least, but it’s acceptable. A short drive to a grocery store for wine, cheese, sourdough bread and you’re ready for the picnic table at the lighthouse (a very short walk from your room) right on the Pacific, and an amazing sunset almost every day. Great state parks close by with good hiking. There is no internet or cable TV, but you can read to your heart’s content and sleep like a baby.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

For 14 months, Disneyland was closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

And when it reopened last April, Mickey and Minnie were kept at a distance from guests. No hugging the characters. No autographs. Only waving from afar.

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