The Ukraine war retraumatizes many immigrants who have come to Maine

Georges Budagu Makoko says many of the people who have immigrated to Maine in the last 50 years were fleeing “devastating violence,” like that being experienced in Ukraine.  
First responders attempt to search the rubble of a building that was attacked during Russia's invasion of Ukraine
Emergency responders comb through the rubble of a building in Ukraine in March 2022. Photo courtesy Brian Milakovsky.

This column first appeared in Amjambo Africa, a print and digital publication that serves new immigrants to Maine. It is republished with permission.

As someone who grew up in a war-torn country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I have difficulty watching the current images coming out of the Ukraine. It gives me bad memories of traumatic events of the war I escaped. And I am not alone. Many of those who immigrated to Maine in the last 50 years also came as the result of devastating violence.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, I have talked with people from many different places who traveled thousands of miles to escape war and violence and rebuild their lives in Maine. For them it is re-traumatizing to think that this war in Europe has the potential to disrupt the lifestyle of the whole world as we know it. We fear having to run from violence again, but feel powerless to stop the war.

Unlike these recent immigrants, people who were born in the U.S. may have difficulty imagining that what they are seeing on the news about the Ukraine could happen to them as well. But the children who have died, or are now on the run in Europe, were once full of hope and energy, pursuing their academic studies, just like children born here. And the mothers and fathers who were once busy working hard and providing for their families, just like mothers and fathers born here, are now living at the mercy of humanitarian organizations. The images we are all seeing are familiar to many Mainers who were born elsewhere and sought safety here.

As someone who is concerned about people everywhere, I worry that the attention given to assisting refugees in Ukraine is causing us to lose sight of other areas of the world where people have also been living through massacres and devastation. The fact that Ukrainians are European, and white, should not be a reason to lose sight of the assistance desperately needed by Afghans, Congolese, Sudanese, Yemens, Syrians, and other people suffering from war. The U.S. should not disproportionately allocate assistance to white refugees over Black refugees. And the Maine congressional delegation should remember that the U.S. was involved in the disasters that have caused so many people of color to take flight.

My thoughts are always with all innocent people who are struggling to escape violence. In war nobody wins; we all lose. We should all work to prevent war anywhere at all costs, and promote peace.


Georges Budagu Makoko

Georges Budagu Makoko is the founder of the nonprofit organization Ladder to the Moon Network and the publisher of Amjambo Africa, a multilingual news organization based in Portland. He was born in Democratic Republic of Congo and moved to Rwanda in 1994, where he graduated from National University of Rwanda in Business Administration. In 2002, he moved to the United States, where he received asylum. He is the author of "Ladder to the Moon: Journey from the Congo to America," about his life story. Budagu speaks six languages, including English, French, and Swahili. He was a senior property manager with Avesta Housing in Maine for 15 years. In 2019, he and a group of friends started Serenity Residential Care, a social and human services organization.
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