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Feb. 23, 2023

Starting Over in America with a Helping Hand from the Baltimore Office

By Rita Piel, Ericka L. Downie

BALTIMORE -- Led by Baltimore Partners Rita Piel and Ericka Downie, lawyers and professionals from Nelson Mullins’ Baltimore office are helping a family of refugees who recently moved to the United States under the auspices of the Uniting for Ukraine (U4U) program.

Yana and Artem Marchuk and their two children are originally from Donetsk. Before coming to Baltimore last year, they lived in a bomb shelter for three weeks since their apartment was destroyed completely during one of the raids by the Russians. They have two children: a nine-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter.

As the war between Ukraine and Russia continues, the Uniting for Ukraine program aims to bring 100,000 displaced Ukrainians to the United States. It allows eligible Ukrainian citizens selected by a sponsor to come here and stay temporarily for a two-year period. Americans who apply to become supporters and are approved must provide their sponsoring family with financial support for the duration of their stay in the United States. The program does not provide any financial or other governmental support for these victims of war who are hoping to build new lives in America.

Nelson Mullins is providing legal work pro bono related to the family’s housing situation and other support services. Attorneys and staff collected gifts for the family and raised over $1,000, which the family plans to use for dance lessons for their children. On January 4, attorneys and staff surprised them with the donations when the family came to the office for trial preparation. Afterwards, Rita took them to lunch at the inner harbor and walked them to the Baltimore Aquarium for an afternoon visit. It was the first time they had a chance to experience the true charm of Baltimore City. As an expression of gratitude for Nelson Mullins’ generosity, the family baked three cakes for everyone in the Baltimore office to enjoy.

Helping this family find peace and stability in the United States after being forced to flee their home is especially meaningful for Rita, who came to Baltimore from Ukraine in the 1980s (when it was part of the Soviet Union) through an American program to help oppressed populations from the USSR.

“Dropping everything to come to a new country and starting over is incredibly overwhelming and difficult, especially for families fleeing war with an uncertain future,” Rita noted. “I am proud to live in this country that gives immigrants escaping persecution --like my own family did 35 years ago -- a chance at a new life and I hope that America is able to provide all of the U4U families a pathway to citizenship.”

She added: “Led by our new Managing Partner Kraig Long, Nelson Mullins has graciously opened its arms to this family and shown them kindness and support beyond free legal services. I feel very fortunate to work at such a special firm with incredible colleagues, and I know that this family is eternally grateful to Nelson Mullins.”

Without further governmental action providing a pathway to citizenship for these victims of war, the families coming to America under this program will be forced to go back after two years to destroyed homes and playgrounds that have transformed into minefields, according to Piel.

Since arriving in Baltimore five months ago, the Marchuk family has leased an apartment, purchased a used car, applied and interviewed for IT jobs while working three jobs, enrolled their son in public school, taken online classes, and learned English in the hopes of one day becoming citizens.