We read the headlines. We see the pictures. We hear the stories. Or we avoid all of that and create a lesser story of what is happening in Ukraine as the war with Russia continues - in order to protect our hearts and minds from the reality…the hunger, destruction, fear, foreboding and death.
Jagoda Pasko, individual partner with Be A Hero, called and shared with us the realities in Ukraine. She is currently staying East of Ukraine. “First, we want to thank you for sending the rice meals, helping people to survive. We are working close to the front line in the towns where they are under heavy shelling providing humanitarian aid. We are also trying to evacuate wounded people to hospitals.
“Unfortunately, one of them died on the way. He had bled a lot before we even got him to the car. This is the first time we experienced life and death so close. We are trying to do anything we can here, in any way. We will continue to evacuate people from these danger zones,” she added.
“The situation is really, really bad. There is constant shelling, like private houses of civilian people are being bombed, rockets landing, fields are burning so city’s won’t have their crops,” Pasko continued. “It’s really difficult, so any support is appreciated, and we thank you!”
Those fields, the crops, are people’s livelihood.
It is how they make their living and it’s being taken away.
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Ethel* volunteered at Midwest Mission at a time when one of the seven Ukraine shipments was being prepared to load and ship. She was moved that so much was being done to help and shared why it was so emotional to see. Her daughter-in-law, her son’s wife, is from Ukraine.
They had been living in the states, but Grethen’s* (daughter-in-law) father and mother remained in Ukraine, except for one niece. “When the war started one of her sisters was able to escape with her 16-year-old son, but her husband could not leave the country because he is under 60,” Ethel’s voice cracked with emotion. “He had to stay behind and take care of an aged mother and make molotov cocktails and other homemade bombs to use against the invasion.” Her other sister, Ethel said, stayed behind to try and help get their parents out of the country. They were determined to stay and did.
“But then they ran out of water and had to get it from the fire hydrants and boil it.Then they lost gas. Then they lost electricity. Then they lost food. Then they decided they needed to leave. The daughter who remained was not able to help then. She woke up and Russian troops and tanks were coming into her suburb. She ended up in Budapest, then Germany.”
Eventually the Red Cross (she thinks) was able to get Gretchen’s parents out on a bus at night with no lights, off road.”They got out with what was in their pockets. It was harrowing. Three and four days at a time would go by with silence. There were big blanks in communication because everybody had to go underground.”
Finally, they were able to get them out. The sister who left came back and coordinated everything. They all stayed at Alexis and Gretchen’s house. “It was hard for them though. An adjustment and they missed home.”
Though her Gretchen’s father knew and understood what was happening in Ukraine, he wanted to go back to his home.
“He wanted to tend to his fruit trees, to his home, to the place he had always called home. They did go back, him and his wife.” Ethel’s son, daughter-in-law and niece remain in the US. It’s sad, and is not an isolated situation.
Another volunteer, Elsie*, shared her story, as well. She and her family have hosted a number of foreign exchange students over the years. Twenty years ago the student was a young man from Ukraine. “He was from the East side of Ukraine. He went back, and I was fortunate enough then that I got to go to Ukraine and visit him,” Elsie said. “I was so taken with the country. I got to go into so many of the churches and the people back then were living a pretty good life. They weren’t hungry…they were living a middle class life just like I was accustomed to.”
Alexis* is now married and has two children. “When I heard that all this war broke out, I was really deeply disturbed,” Elsie continued. “We have remained in contact, have visited over the years. He has come here for weddings and holidays, and we consider him family. “Family takes care of family,” she said. He and his family left the Ukraine and he wrote me that they had been in five countries in six days. The picture of the family showed post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) on the faces of the children. Alexis has a brother in the states, and their father had a visa to the states, but not their mother. To get the US permit, they needed a sponsor and asked me.”
Elsie said she had to send in her income tax returns, bank statements, social security number and “It was stressful. The most distressing thing about that time was learning of a truckload of immigrants at the border, and they all died. Here I was working myself to death to help one lady come from Ukraine, and at the same time this was happening. The conflict in my mind, I can’t describe it.
“I did get to see Alexis and his family a couple months ago. They came with what they could carry in the backpacks onto the plane and one other suitcase.”
Elsie collected linens from a friend to be used for Alexis’ mother - who did get to leave Ukraine - and family members. “But I sit here still wondering, how can I help those in Ukraine? I’ll be asking that for the rest of my life.” Elsie is in her 80s.
*Names are changed for confidentiality.