COUNTRY: UKRAINE
PROJECT: GROWING OUR WAY HOME
DIRECTOR: ALESSIA
To donate to Ukraine-Alessia  click here.

Our partner for this project is Alessia. She is an amazing woman with a heart of gold. She normally resides in Kyiv, but had to relocate south and east of Kyiv when Russia invaded the country (Area 1 on the map below). She currently lives on the primary route for refugees fleeing Kharkiv, Donbas, Mariupol, and Odessa, and she couldn’t sit by and watch as thousands of refugees passed through hungry and scared. Many had been hiding in basements for weeks, some had been dug out of the ruins of bombed buildings, and many had gone several days without food and had only the lightweight clothes on their backs despite it being frigid winter. Of particular concern for her were over 100 children orphaned by the war that no longer had documents so they could not leave the country.

Unfortunately, international relief efforts were focused on refugee camps outside of Ukraine and in Western Ukraine, because it was considered too dangerous to assist areas as far inland as Alessia. With our help, Alessia mobilized a team and recruited dozens of families to take in refugees and children. Food has become scarce and expensive, so she directly feeds over 200 people each day and distributes staples to the many families that have taken in refugees and children. She also has provided countless air mattresses (brought in from Romania with our funding), warm clothing, and medicine.

A second area where she works is the Chernihiv region (NE of Kyiv – Area 2 on the map), where she has a wonderful cohort, Tolik, to manage the work. This area received heavy damage at the start of the war, and many women were widowed and children orphaned. To slow the advance of Russian troops towards Kyiv, the Ukrainian military blew up all the bridges that connected the Chernihiv region with parts further south and west. The Russian troops have since withdrawn, but the region is now cut off from supply lines. To get food and other goods into Chernihiv, supplies are lifted with ropes and a cable to the top of a destroyed bridge and someone on the other side (Tolik, for us) then drives it to villages. This area is receiving very little help from either national efforts or international organizations because not only does the lack of bridges create a formidable challenge, but Russian troops mined the roads as they withdrew from the region. It is therefore dangerous to drive on the roads. Tolik, however, has learned from locals and the military which roads are now safe, so he takes supplies to as many villages as he can, focusing his help on very poor families with single mothers and many children.

One thing we love about Alessia is she thinks about the emotional wellbeing of the children and adults in her care. One day Russian planes were flying overhead and occasionally bombing nearby buildings, and all the children (and adults!) were scared. So Alessia took advantage of a box of toys that arrived with the last shipment from Romania. They spread mattresses on the floor for the children to sit on, served hot cocoa and cookies, and used a toy rhino and wolf to create a fairy tale for the children. The children laughed a lot when the wolf brought milk to a toy goat. Alessia says, “Although we adults were scared, we held on because the children looked at us. We stayed calm so the children became calm too. We did it for the children. But the adults coming to the building hugged and cried, because it was very scary today.” She also recruits the refugees that have remained in their area to cook, serve, distribute food and generally help with the program. Giving them a purpose keeps them from developing depression which is so common among other refugees.

In an emergency situation, humanitarian aid is often necessary, but we like to help people back to self-sufficiency as quickly as possible. When winter chills faded and active fighting withdrew from our areas, it was time to help families, especially refugees and those with orphaned children, to become self-sufficient once again. Since food is the primary concern, we have focused our efforts on growing vegetables and raising chickens and goats for eggs and milk. We are giving seedlings, one nanny goat plus kid, and 20-30 chickens to the poorest of the families in our areas. Land is plentiful in both areas where we work, so it is natural to rely on agriculture to replenish food supplies for these families. It also will give the refugees something productive to do which will help them heal from their trauma.

So far the results have been very heartwarming. The orphaned children adore the animals, hugging and kissing the goats. One boy, who was left without parents, took a chick in his arms and said: “You are also without your mother. I will warm you up; do not be afraid.” Caring for the animals is helping to heal the hidden scars these orphaned children carry. And it is giving adults a sense of purpose which is important to ward off depression. As Alessia told us, “We are actively planting gardens. This is food for the Ukrainian people in the fall. This is important. The project that you are doing now is very important for Ukraine.” Doing something they feel is important not only for themselves but also for others is helping to heal the hidden scars the adults carry.

To donate to Ukraine-Alessia  click here.

 

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