Local nonprofit gives Ukrainian refugees chance to feel connected

American Service, founded by a University of Minnesota alum, serves to mentor Ukrainian refugees by providing them work and volunteer opportunities.

Aswar+Rahman+founded+the+nonprofit+and++purchased+a+house+in+Dinkytown+to+house+some+of+the+refugees+who+came+to+Minnesota.

Dean Tan

Aswar Rahman founded the nonprofit and purchased a house in Dinkytown to house some of the refugees who came to Minnesota.

by Amirah Razman

American Service, a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis, aims to help Ukrainian refugees integrate into the community through mentorship and guidance, while providing an opportunity to help others.

The organization was founded by Aswar Rahman, a University of Minnesota alum and content strategist who ran a business creating content for political campaigns, following the start of the more than year-long Russia-Ukraine war.

Rahman traveled to the Ukraine-Poland border to offer humanitarian assistance to people trying to escape from the war, where he was able to apply his business skills to help others.

“Around that time, there was an inkling of the U.S. announcing this ‘Uniting for Ukraine’ program, and this doesn’t happen [often],” Rahman said. “This expansion of humanitarian parole we’ve seen under the Biden administration came out of thin air.”

Uniting for Ukraine was announced in April 2022 and offers Ukrainian citizens to stay in the U.S. for a two-year humanitarian parole period. They must have a supporter in the U.S who will provide them with the necessary financial support during the two years.

As of Feb. 16, more than 133,000 people had come to the U.S. through the Uniting for Ukraine program.

Because of this, organizations were not ready for the influx of refugees coming to the United States. Rahman purchased a house in Dinkytown to house some of the refugees who came to Minnesota.

American Service helped Taras Zhmurko when he first came to Minnesota after fleeing the war in Ukraine. Zhmurko now lives in the house in Dinkytown. (Dean Tan)

“American Service helped me when I arrived and they showed me how to fill out paperwork,” Taras Zhmurko, who fled the war in Ukraine and came to Minnesota, said.

After American Service was founded, the U.S. government announced in November certain Ukrainian refugees would be granted automatic work authorization, which meant they would be eligible for work as soon as they arrived in the United States.

Rahman said he wanted to help the refugees find immediate employment without needing a social security number. Some of the refugees currently work at Home Depot, where they also help one another with translating English to Ukrainian.

“My organization, in December, really pivoted hard into employment,” Rahman said. “We found really good jobs at Home Depot, especially in the warehouse side of things.”

Relating to a community impacted by tragedy

The organization partnered with local groups in Mississippi on March 7 to send seven refugees to Rolling Fork, Mississippi, to provide aid to individuals who lost their homes after a deadly tornado hit the area.

For Sofiia Rudenko, the Minnesota director of American Service, the trip provided an opportunity for the refugees to connect with the Rolling Fork community.

“We do understand how it is when you lose your home, and when you don’t have people to support you,” Rudenko said. “We know that support is really important, so if we can go and help, we will go and help.”

The refugees gave water to a local distribution center, since large amounts of debris cut off water supply in the area.

Rudenko said they also “gave their hearts to the community.”

“We met a lot of amazing people and they said their story,” Rudenko said. “It was heartbreaking for us, and we were happy to be able to help them and show them that we do understand what it’s like.”

Rahman said he wanted the refugees to go to Mississippi because he believed philanthropic work could help them feel like they belong in America.

“This is their country now — this is where they will live in the foreseeable future,” Rahman said. “Most of them want to build their lives here, and we felt it in our core that this was a way to say that we belong and that we are here to help.”

American Service provides outlet for Ukrainians to help their own people

For Zhmurko, being part of American Service means he gets to help others get a job in America through the knowledge he gained during his time with the organization.

“I can help people with housing and help people with some paperwork,” Zhmurko said. “It’s cool for me.”

Helping the Ukrainian community get settled in America was the main reason Rudenko chose to come to America after hearing about the opportunity to help in another country.

“I never imagined myself living anywhere else,” Rudenko said. “I’m really happy to build a community where people can help and support and be motivated and brave in doing such things.”