Daria and Dan returned to Romania and Ukraine in late April of 2023, and visited Austria as well, where approximately 100,000 displaced Ukrainian women and children reside. In an effort to have more frequent oversight on the ground, the Colbournes and Abshers decided to take separate trips this time. Sue and Jamie plan to visit Poland and hopefully Ukraine in the summer. Below is the update from Daria and Dan’s April trip.
Our Ukrainian friend, Nataliya, an integral part of our mission, welcomes us with a big smile at the Vienna airport. It is great to see her in person for the first time in 9 months. Since the last time we visited Nataliya, she has launched her own non-profit organization or NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) called Mission Ukraine. Her organization is working actively to help with the war relief effort. She has moved from her temporary home in Bucharest, Romania, and is now splitting time between Kyiv (with her husband) and Vienna. Nataliya has numerous contacts in Vienna and, once again, proves to be invaluable.
On our first morning in Vienna, Nataliya introduces us to Sara Von Moss (photo below left), a U.S. expat living in Vienna, who runs “The Feel Good Store”. It is a special place in the heart of Vienna that supports displaced Ukrainians by providing them with urgently needed essentials such as clothing, personal care items and household goods. She named it “The Feel Good Store” to promote support with dignity. Their goal is to treat all Ukrainian refugees who visit like valued and respected “customers”, not people looking for a hand-out. Many of these “customers” need support to prepare for a job interview, to start in a new school, or to gather the essentials needed to settle into their new lives in Vienna.
Sara Von Moss. Ukrainianvolunteers at the Feel Good Store.
Sara has a background in finance, marketing, and retail; so launching The Feel Good Store is in her wheelhouse. Although she is a Viennese resident, she was visiting her mom in Miami when Russia invaded Ukraine. As she watched the images on the evening news, she knew she had to do something to help (reminiscent of Jamie’s aha moment). Her employer, who also wanted to help, granted her an indefinite sabbatical and The Feel Good Store concept began. We ask Sara how we can help The Feel Good Store, so she provides us with a long list of needs, including personal hygiene products and household cleaning supplies.
We are surprised to learn that the Ukrainian community in Vienna is a highly educated group and that Austria requires anyone working in a professional job be able to speak German. Many Ukrainians are taking accelerated language courses, while working during the day, so they can be eligible for jobs in their previous profession.
Many Ukrainian women volunteer at The Feel Good Store. One of them, Tatiana Knyazeva, is a psychologist, who had her life turned upside-down by the war. When she relocated to Vienna, Sara was there to provide help. Now, she volunteers at the store to help other women who find themselves in the same difficult situation. Many of the Ukrainian volunteers have or need paying jobs and because of that, many of these highly educated women are cleaning and doing manual labor to support their families until they can pass the language proficiency exam.
After the meeting with Sara, Nataliya takes us to meet Oksana Schocher, her Ukrainian friend and partner in “Mission Ukraine”. The four of us shop for supplies to donate to The Feel Good Store and to buy children’s clothing for our planned visit to an orphanage the following day. The orphanage, located two hours outside of Vienna, is home to displaced Ukrainian children and families. So much shopping!
We go to 3 stores in a huge mall complex just outside Vienna. We spend the most time in C & A, a department store similar to Target or Walmart. There we purchase about 200 items of clothing for kids at the orphanage (see photo below). Nataliya stands between the infant and toddler sections of the store and calls out the needs from a long list of children’s sizes from the orphanage: “boy – sweatshirt – size 22”; girl – pants – size28”. Oksana, Dan, and Daria race around the store grabbing cute kids’ clothes at reasonable prices. When we take our huge bags of clothing to the checkout stand, the salespeople look at us aghast, until they learn we are taking all of these clothes to an orphanage.
The next morning, we return to The Feel Good Store to deliver the personal hygiene and cleaning supplies Sara requested. Sara tells us about her Amazon wish list. We promise to check that out and order some more supplies from Amazon for the store. We meet two Ukrainian women who are volunteering at the store. With Tatiana translating, we hear their stories. With tears in their eyes, these women tell us about the agony of leaving their husbands behind and coming to Vienna for the safety of their children. Both women are thankful that they can give back to the Ukrainian community in Austria by volunteering at The Feel Good Store.
We give the volunteers a big hug, then join Nataliya and Oksana for the 2-hour drive to the orphanage. On the way, we stop to buy strawberries and raspberries as a special treat for the children at the orphanage; we were told that the only fruit the children typically get are apples and bananas.
The orphanage is supported by an organization called Klein Herzen (which means “small hearts”). When we arrive, Pascale Vayer, who runs Kleine Herzen, greets us at our car with a huge smile and a special surprise. As we enter the orphanage, all of the children and caregivers are gathered in the lobby to greet us with cheers and hugs.
These children come from a Ukrainian orphanage from the city of Kropyvnytskiy, in the Kirovograd region of Ukraine. It was evacuated on March 26, 2022. Since then the 61 children and the 33 caregivers (and their own children – 10 of them)have lived at this abandoned golf resort hotel in South Burgenland, Austria. A former Ukrainian surgeon is the Director of the orphanage. They also have a full-time pediatrician, nurse, speech therapist, cook, and anesthetist on staff.
Note: we blur the faces of all children in any photos. The leaders of theorphanage.
The children are between 1-1/2 and 7 years old; most are between 2 and 4 years old. 18 of the children are disabled - 6 of them severely (cerebral palsy, autism). The Austrian government finances the running costs of the hotel and 3meals per day. The rest of the costs are covered by Kleine Herzen and the generosity of other private donors.
Pascale gives us candy to hand out to the children and we are impressed with how patiently they wait for their turn. (Of course, a few couldn’t resist grabbing an extra piece or two.) Pascale introduces us to the doctor and nurse who run the orphanage and gives us a tour of the facility. It is clean and obviously well run; in its prime it was very nice golf resort. After the tour, it is dinner time for the kids, so we say our goodbyes and head back to Vienna.
That evening we have dinner with Nataliya, Oksana plus her husband and daughter, Stefan and Miriam. Miriam, an 11-year old, impresses us with her knowledge and ability to speak English fluently. Stefan is an independent journalist focusing currently on the war. We have an eye-opening and inspiring conversation over dinner about the number of Ukrainian children who have been taken from their parents in occupied parts of Ukraine to live in orphanages in Russia and the heroic efforts by many to rescue them.