There’s a feeling of panic. We’re on the countdown of days, how do we prioritize before we leave. How do you quantify who or what’s more important?
Yesterday, we’re up early to be at Dedeman’s (the local Home Depot version) to buy freestanding shelving for the donation center. Sue is obsessed with getting the room organized before we depart. Piles of food and clothing are haphazardly dropped off around the room when donations are brought in. It’s a good problem, sort of…. “Chaos of donated stuff”. Can’t you just hear Sue say, “let’s get organized guys”?
Next stop, we met Oana and commit $20K for buying medical supplies to be shipped into Kyiv. Our guide Natalyia will handle the logistics. After that meeting, we head back to the donation room to put together the shelving and get the room organized. We meet Maria there.
*Maria left her husband to fight the war back in Ukraine. She escaped with 4-year-old fraternal twins (magazine-worthy cuteness) and her mom who has MS and uses a one-arm crutch. She’s looking for size 27 tennis shoes for the kiddos, they’ve outgrown their only pair of shoes. By downloading a translation app (why didn’t I do this before??), we can communicate. We drop them off at their hotel since public transportation is hard with her entourage. This am, we headed back to Selgros and buy 32 pairs of children’s shoes size 25-32. Because we just can’t help ourselves, we buy 72 chocolate Easter bunnies to hand out at the train station refugee rooms later today. A quick stop at Maria’s hotel to drop off the shoes, she cries, we cry, we hug….Sue is getting used to this hugging thing.
Now flipping back to yesterday, we meet Victoria at the donation Center.
Victoria is a young mom with a terrible 2-year-old son and a mom living with her. She is looking for shorts for her son and food. Food insecurity is a REAL thing here. She’s left her son napping and offers to chip in to help organize. She’s a great worker and her English is excellent. Back home, they lived 10 KM from the eastern border of Russia in Bucha. Her neighborhood was bombed repeatedly. She was a teacher and her favorite subject was literature. Quite frankly, she says, she’d like to volunteer here for a couple of hours because she needs a break from her son who is out of control. Unfortunately, the son was scheduled for heart surgery at the end of February in Kyiv but they had to flee the country. Natalyia will work with her for medical care here.
Victoria’s mother was a college professor but has gotten a job cleaning an apartment here. We feel Victoria’s the perfect fit to work in the donation room but she’s sorry she can’t leave her son that much. She would have liked the ability to earn money. We’re now What’s App friends.
Out the door, headed to IKEA to buy furniture, rugs, and cubby boxes for the Children’s Resource Center. Peter, one of the founders of this center will shop with us. He has a list and 4 loaded carts later, we’re almost done. He pulls me aside with a solemn face and says “can you afford this”? How, I think, can you not find the funds to support this?
Back to the Resource Center where Jamie jumps right in to unload the van and start putting together the furniture. His hammer is a rock wrapped in a cloth. Jamie’s happier than a pig in shit so, I head back downstairs to the donation center to meet the two Ukrainian women we’ve hired to run the room. Of course, they speak Ukrainian but we also wanted them to speak some English so the donors can be properly thanked. Donors also tend to ask ”what are the current needs?” and it’s wonderful to have that communicated. We’ve committed to six months of pay at 2000 Ron per month. This is a fair salary and equates to about $500 US per month. It feels good to provide these jobs to women refugees after they've left their husbands, homes, and careers. Two will work in the donation room and one will work in the Resource Center.
We’re in a strange country and can’t speak the language and we are relying on the generosity of others to provide housing and food for the refugees.
We’re taking large cardboard boxes and writing gender and ages on the flap. Unpacking plastic bags of food and clothes while a constant flow of refugees comes into the room. The vast majority of the women are embarrassed to be looking for food and only take what they need. There’s the occasional outlier though but Adella, the founder of the room, is hesitant to make rules. I spy one older woman who’s stuffing every piece of chocolate we have into her bag. One man with his son takes two pairs of shoes for the son, two toys, and two bags of sugar. Men are a rarity in the room. I can barely hold my tongue. Now, one of our paid women comes up to me, she sees what I’m seeing and she knows it’s not right. She wants a couple of rules… now we have a rule. Please only take one per family or what you need.
On our way back to the hotel, Natalyia gets a text from a friend who’s fled to Austria. She had a nice home near Bucha. The Russian soldiers occupied her home for days. They pulled up a truck and they took her washer/dryer, microwave, clothes, art…virtually everything. The only thing they left alone were the books in her library. Soon, we pass the Russian embassy where about 300 people are chanting and holding signs in support of the Ukrainians. We open our windows, honk our horn, and raise our fists to the sky.
Sue and Jamie