Ukrainian refugees try to find Gulfport’s family

GULFPORT, Fla. (WFLA) — Eric Cudar is back at his business, Gulfport Garage, after a trip to the Ukraine-Poland border.

“There were a lot of people coming off those buses who had no one and it’s heartbreaking,” he said, “especially watching the kids. I cried more in ten days than in ten years.

Cudar and his fiancée Ulyana Fylypovych traveled to Eastern Europe to help his sister and her 10- and 12-year-old nieces feel torn by war in Ukraine. The father stayed to fight for his country.

“They had to say goodbye maybe for the last time to their dad and I don’t think it’s fully settled with the kids but obviously with mum she’s well aware that she may never see her husband,” Cudar told News Channel 8.

The mother and her two daughters are among more than three million Ukrainians who have left their country since the Russian invasion began in February.

“Right now we have them in an Airbnb in Warsaw, Poland,” Cudar said, “so they’re much better off than a lot of people crossing the border.”

But he added that the challenge now was to find a way for them to reunite with their families in Tampa Bay.

“It would do wonders for the psyches of these children,” he said, “if they could be with Grandma and Grandpa.”

Cudar said advice from the US Embassy in Warsaw backfired.

“We found out by looking at a Ukrainian lawyer outside of New York that anyone applying for a visitor visa was automatically denied because they had no country to return to,” Cudar said.

As the war rages on, this Pinellas County business owner has a message for Congress.

“Find a way for some of these people to come to the United States,” he said. “I have family that we can support. They will not be a burden on the US government or taxpayers. They just want a chance.

For now, Cudar said her marriage is on hold as they focus on helping her fiancé’s family get to Florida.

He tells News Channel 8 that he was in communication with the office of Representative Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg).

A spokesperson for the congressman said his office is working on a dozen similar cases involving Ukrainian refugees who are linked to families in Tampa Bay.

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