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February 29, 2024

LGBTIQ+ advocate from Ukraine creates new life in D.C. thanks to sponsorship program

“At 6:00 am my husband and I heard the first explosions and we understood what was going on,” recalls Anton Levdyk, a Ukrainian refugee, about the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

In the early morning of February 24, 2022, the couple fled their apartment in the capital city of Kyiv and headed west to Lviv for safety. A trip that typically takes approximately six hours took more than 24. 

“It was really challenging because there was no transportation, and all the roads were blocked,” shares Anton. 

In Kyiv, Anton was the Program Director for the Ukraine-based non-profit Fulcrum UA, administering the organization's LGBTIQ+ healthcare and workplace equality projects. In Lviv, Anton’s professional experience and understanding of the unique challenges facing the LGBTIQ+ community in Ukraine inspired him and his husband to open shelters. 

Anton Levdyk, Ukrainian refugee and LGBTIQ+ advocate

“We managed to open two shelters in Lviv and provide financial and medical assistance,” says Anton.

Anton and his husband’s three-bedroom apartment also became a refuge for people fleeing to Lviv. He recalls that at one point, 13 people were living with them.

On April 21, 2022, the United States launched Uniting for Ukraine, a program that provides a legal pathway for eligible Ukrainians to enter the U.S. as humanitarian parolees. The Uniting for Ukraine program allows families and individuals in the U.S. to sponsor and host eligible applicants.

Upon learning about the program, Anton’s husband Alex was excited and optimistic — Anton needed a little more convincing. 

“Initially, I thought that maybe the best place for us was Spain or some other European country,” shares Anton. 

The couple filled out the application and filed the appropriate paperwork and documentation. A few weeks later, their approval came through.

“I was shocked, really,” says Anton, still appearing to be in disbelief more than a year later.

Approved to come to the U.S., Anton and Alex soon met their U.S. sponsors Justin Coniaris and his husband via a Zoom meeting.

“I found out about the Uniting for Ukraine program from an article in The New York Times,” shares Justin.

Like many Americans, Justin and his husband could no longer sit and watch as the war unfolded on the news every night. They wanted to help in the most impactful way they could.

Anton, right, with his Uniting for Ukraine sponsor, Justin Coniaris, at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

“We were watching the news and feeling like ‘is there anything that we can do in our own lives that's practical,’” says Justin. “And we had an extra room, so why not leverage that?”

Anton and Alex arrived in September 2022 and stayed with Justin and his husband in Washington, D.C. for five months.

“Initially, we planned to stay for a month or two, but we were too optimistic,” Anton says. "We thought we’d find jobs and an apartment, but it wasn’t that easy.”

While the Ukrainian couple was learning how to navigate their new lives in D.C., Justin was also learning how to be a more effective and empathic sponsor.

“I've learned you just need to show up for the person in whatever way they need,” Justin reflects. “As long as you're willing to do that, it's a really fulfilling experience. I like that we've formed these relationships with Alex and Anton and it’s great that new people enrich the D.C. community.”

By early 2023, the couple began to build a foundation for a more stable life here in the U.S. 

Anton started a job with Outright International, an LGBTIQ+ non-profit based in New York, as a program officer for Ukraine. 

“I work with Ukraine and Ukrainian civil societies,” explains Anton. “We have a Ukraine Emergency Fund, established right after the full-scale invasion and we’ve already disbursed more than $3.5 million to Ukrainian organizations.”

Arriving as humanitarian parolees, Anton and Alex are now green card holders and look forward to the day they are eligible to become U.S. citizens.

How can you help?

The crisis in Ukraine continues, and many are still in need of dire lifesaving aid and protection. Your ongoing support can make a big difference in the lives of those who have been forced to flee their homes to escape violence and find safety. By becoming USA for UNHCR’s newest monthly donor, you can help provide emergency supplies, lifesaving care and protection to families in and around Ukraine.