In early summer, we shifted our work in Ukraine from primarily relief to primarily agriculture. We focused on more than a hundred families with many children, particularly war orphans. Each family received poultry for eggs, a nanny goat and kid for milk, and 300 seedlings of assorted vegetables. For families to share, we also provided some incubators, an autoclave for canning meat, a large freezer to store raw meat, and a chainsaw for firewood so they can heat their homes this winter. The harvest from the agriculture program was really impressive, and, with skyrocketing food prices in Ukraine, it will make a huge difference in the nutritional health of our families.

Since the start of the war, Ukraine has lost 50% of its egg production and eggs now cost 55-70 cents apiece. The largest egg factory in Ukraine is about to close which will drive prices even higher. Yet our families are receiving 6-14 eggs per day from their birds. And, of course, some of those chicks grew into male birds which were mostly turned into stew and canned for the winter. The goats are providing each family with about 1-1.5 liters of milk per day, and milk is now going for $1.2 per liter. They also used our funds to buy rabbits which are flourishing and will provide a good source of protein in the winter. There is no way our families could have purchased eggs and milk and meat in the stores, so they are really, really happy!

As for the seedlings, the families made anywhere from 150 to 500 liters of tomato juice (each tomato plant produced about $4-worth of tomatoes at current Ukrainian prices), they also canned lots of vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, cabbage, peppers) and fruit from trees already growing on their property (apples, pears, apricots, plums). They had to build fences around the vegetables to keep the geese from eating the cabbage, Alessia says, but they received a big harvest of cabbages which they love in their borscht. They also prepared medicinal herbs for the winter (thyme, stepmother leaves, mint, chamomile) which they dry and use in tea. They can no longer afford to buy tea in Ukraine, but “now we meet new refugees with these hot, healing drinks that we made ourselves”.

But on a more depressing note… things have been very grim in the Kherson area. Alessia and her team have been evacuating as many people as she can and she says “rivers of blood flow there.” In her Kherson efforts (4 evacuation trips plus two trips to the hospital just on one day – she’s exhausted) she at one point carried an orphaned boy, 6 years old, whose hand was torn off – his arm needed to be amputated above the elbow. The boy didn’t cry or scream – he was in complete shock. She says the children they are evacuating from the Kherson area don’t smile or react in any way – just deadpan faces. But one of the things I love about Alessia is she really focuses on the emotional health of the children, so I know in time they will start coming out of their shells.

There has been a terrible shortage of medicine and bandages in the Kherson area, so we funded some of these supplies. Even, more, Alessia needed a bigger, sturdier van. They typically only have short periods when the military allows them into the area to help people reach train stations and military evacuation spots. People look at Alessia with “eyes of hope that we will come for them,” but when the military says “time is up”, it is heartbreaking to leave them behind. Her greatest wish was a for a larger, sturdier vehicle so she could evacuate greater numbers of people and handle the rough roads even after the rains start and roads become more difficult to navigate.

Alessia had her eye on a large van that was sturdy and in great shape, but even with our help ($11,000) and selling her smaller, run-down van, she was still $6,000 short. A woman in the area had recently received $6,000 from her son who was living in Germany, and, with her son’s permission, she gave the money to Alessia to buy the van. Surely this woman needed the money to get through the coming winter. What a testament to how much locals value what Alessia is doing!