July 14, 2022 –
Hello Bucharest! We touch down in the evening of the 14th with 8 huge duffel bags and 4 adults: Refuse To Quit co-founders - Dan and Daria Absher and Jamie and Sue Colbourne.
Nataliya, our Ukrainian guide from Kyiv meets us at the airport to help with logistics. She continues to be an invaluable resource; we would be lost without her.
July 15, 2022 –
Our initial stop is Bucharest’s Nord Train Station, where we connect with Dodo, whom Jamie and Sue met on their April trip. Dodo is a paramedic and founder of some of the refugee rooms at the station. When Sue and Jamie last visited in April, there were 4 rooms, now there are 2. The flow of Ukrainians has subsided some, but there is still a big demand. Dodo tells us he needs volunteers so, we promise to show up the next day.
Nataliya’s research has discovered that “Rom-Expo” (the Romanian Exposition Center) processes an average 1,200 Ukrainians per day. When we arrive, there’s a line out the front door. Inside, numerous families are waiting to be processed. First, each adult is required to provide their family’s Ukrainian passports and be entered into the computer system. Each family is only allowed to visit once every 10 days. The families may select whatever clothes they need. The baby items, toiletries, and food are rationed based on the size of the family. Each child may select one new toy.
After a brief tour, we unload several of the duffel bags. We have clothes (thanks to Kate and Kathy Henningsen and an Absher Construction Company clothing drive); toothbrushes and toothpaste (thanks Drs. Jensen, Brown, and York); and children’s shoes (thanks Value Village).
We are immediately put to work. Daria hands out toys to the kids (one toy each!). Dan, Jamie, Nataliya and Sue unpack, sort and hang clothes on racks. There’s a feeding frenzy when our bags are opened, as women jockey to see the “new” items we brought. Just when we feel the satisfaction of emptying a box of donated clothes, another takes its place. There is an endless supply of used clothing avalanche high in two storage rooms. The faces of the Ukrainian moms shine as they find the shoes or clothes that will fit them or their children; it’s what makes this worth it! The numerous Romanian volunteers are the true heroes at the Rom-Expo; they work tirelessly to support their Ukrainian neighbors. Working at Rom-Expo is not a glamour job, but there is a deep sense of appreciation for all those who help.
After 3 hours of work, we dash off for a personal tour of the nearly completed Children’s Hospital attached to the Marie Curie Hospital. The nonprofit called Daruieste Viata (Give Life) has raised sufficient funds from private sources to complete this project, slated to open by the end of the year. It’s an impressive facility with practical, yet innovative design. It’s the first public hospital built in Romania in the last 30 years. We dine that evening with Oana and Cornell. Oana is the founder of Daruieste Viata. She is a remarkable lady, who made this impossible dream happen.
July 16, 2022 –
The next morning, we crawl out of bed and head to the train station. After a brief training session, we don our yellow vests. Jamie, Nataliya, and Sue head to room 1 while Dan and Daria are in room 4. Jamie, Sue and Nataliya sanitize children’s toys, sweep the floors, pass out coffee and just try to be a welcoming face. Nataliya is the big hit since she speaks Ukrainian. One story that struck home was the 60ish retired military grandfather who came looking for train info. A few weeks ago, he left the Odessa area with his grandchildren after a missile hit the apartment building next to theirs. Now he wants to go home and see his ailing parents but isn’t sure how to go about this. Nataliya works her magic and he is off with a wave and a smile.
Dan and Daria work with Gabriel (see photo), a Romanian volunteer, who has worked every weekend since March, on top of his regular Monday to Friday job.
The biggest treat of the day is Victoria (2nd from the left) arriving to volunteer. Victoria is a young Ukrainian relocated to Bucharest due to the war. Jamie and Sue met Victoria on their last visit and connected her to our miracle worker, Nataliya. Victoria’s son, Daniel, needed life-saving heart surgery. Nataliya, was able to arrange for a London-based surgeon to come to Bucharest to perform the surgery. Check out our website and see Daniel’s picture in his hospital room after his successful surgery.
Victoria brightens the room as soon as she arrives in Room 4 to work with Dan and Daria. She is very popular as she speaks Ukrainian, Romanian and Russian and has a magnetic personality that draws the refugees to her. A confused grandma seems lost as she wanders into Room 4. Victoria provides support and deciphers the train schedules for her. She is given refreshments and a safe place to wait several hours for the rest of her family to arrive.
While volunteering at the train station, we get a call asking if we can return to Rom-Expo. Although Rom-Expo is closed on the weekend, the staff needs more help sorting and hanging clothes. Of course, we head over and work for several hours. See the photos below -
After a few hours volunteering at Rom-Expo, we head back to the hotel to pack for tomorrow’s 7-hour drive to Botosani (near the Ukraine border) to visit the Casa Ioana orphanage.