PROJECT: GROWING OUR WAY HOME
To donate to Ukraine-Alessia click here.
Our primary partner in Ukraine is Alesia who is living several hundred kilometers SE of Kyiv. Her area is the first stop for people fleeing the front lines. The first waves of refugees were those with vehicles escaping the east to relative safety in the west or across borders. Alesia cared for them and helped them on their way. But the poorest families had no means of transportation so were trapped in dangerous areas. As the military gave Alesia brief windows to operate, she and her team evacuated families from the major hotspots to the east and south and settled them in her area – at first, they came from places like Kharkiv and Mariupol, more recently from places like Kherson and Bakhmut…. She continues to risk her life to help as many as she can.
Although many people, organizations, and countries are responding with great generosity to help Ukrainians during this humanitarian crisis, little help is getting to central Ukraine. Most of the help is going to Eastern Ukraine (which is appropriate because that is where the greatest suffering is taking place) and to those who have officially registered as refugees. But to register, a family must have official documents proving they are from an affected area. Many families fled so quickly they left their documents behind, or their documents were destroyed by bombs. Those who have documents typically pass through our area and go to Western Ukraine where there are many benefits for documented refugees. But those without documents cannot find jobs or paces to live in Western Ukraine, so they are relocating to Central Ukraine. 80-85% of the refugees and war orphans in our area have no documents so they have no access to the official humanitarian aid programs, despite having faced the same trauma and losing everything.
For the first few months of the war, Alesia and her team fed over 200 refugees per day, but that was not sustainable with our small help, so in the late spring Alesia helped over a hundred refugee families with an agriculture program. She selected the most vulnerable families – primarily widows caring for many war orphans. Each family was given 300 seedlings to grow vegetables, a nanny goat and kid for milk, and 20 birds for eggs (chickens, ducks, or geese). This program not only allowed families to feed themselves, it also brought some emotional healing to the children who enjoyed caring for the animals. One boy, holding a chick in his arms, said, “Don’t worry. I don’t have a mother either. I’ll keep you warm.” The harvest this past summer and fall was abundant, and that food is now helping to feed those who arrived later.
Closest to Alesia’s heart are the several hundred war orphans that she looks out for. Although many were traumatized by the war and couldn’t speak when they first arrived, the love and care they received from the whole community quickly brought smiles back to their faces. Alessia constantly thinks about the emotional wellbeing of the children and adults in her care. One day as Russian planes were flying overhead and occasionally bombing nearby buildings, all the children (and adults!) were scared. So Alessia took advantage of a box of toys that arrived with a 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 is also hoping to start an informal school for these children, because school is online now and they do not have smartphones or computers to access the lessons.
What is most inspiring to those of us working with Alesia is the dedication of the entire community as they care for one another. Families in the area have unofficially adopted all of the war orphans, so the children have loving homes and caregivers. Refugees who settled early on are caring for the later arrivals. Refugees from rural areas helped those from towns learn how to care for crops and animals. Men are using an industrial chain saw to cut and distribute firewood to help families through the cold winter months. When electricity is out (which it often is these days) there is no water, so a generator is used to run a well and volunteers distribute containers to all the families so they have water to drink. Everyone is pitching in and watching out for one another, which makes it such a joy to come alongside them and help!
To donate to Ukraine-Alessia click here.