St. Louis prepares for Ukrainian refugees as country fights back against Russia

ST. LOUIS — The region prepared this week for a wave of Ukrainian immigrants as refugees, including friends and family of residents here, fled the Eastern European country.

A church called a prayer vigil. A family raced across borders. And the region’s immigration hub braced for newcomers.

“We will make sure they find St. Louis a welcoming place to call home,” said Arrey Obenson, president and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis.

By Friday, tens of thousands of Ukrainians had fled the country to escape the Russian invasion that had already killed scores, shelled cities and sent tanks rolling toward the capital of Kyiv. United Nations officials said the war could displace millions of Ukrainians.

The International Institute last fielded an influx of Ukrainian refugees here eight years ago, after Russia invaded and annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. Since then, the institute has resettled a few dozen in St. Louis and in the Springfield, Missouri, area. A couple hundred refugees have landed in Missouri over the past decade, according to federal data.