Ukraine and Romania

The People We Met, Ukrainian Relief / Romania Visit Update #3

July 20th-22nd, 2022

July 20, 2022 – 

We wake with visions of the state orphanage burned on our brains. To imagine the setting, think of a Boris Karloff movie from the 1950’s; it’s unsettling. In spite of that image, we remember the dedicated people treating the children with respect and compassion. 

As we head downstairs to load the car at 7:00 am, we are greeted with a wonderful surprise. Several sleepy-eyed children are waiting for us on the main floor for a final goodbye. They are on break from school, so it took a special effort for them to get up early to see us off. What a wonderful group of kids!

Our drive back to Bucharest is uneventful. That evening, we take our nonprofit hats off to enjoy “color local”, a phrase Nataliya taught us. We dine at a lovely restaurant called Pescarus located on Lake Herastrau, while enjoying the sunset. Because we can’t help ourselves, we discuss plans for the next day. We’re going to divide and conquer our remaining errands before departure. 

July 21, 2022 –

A few days ago, Nataliya heard of a young, Ukrainian mom (Lubov), who has relocated to Bucharest because of the war. Her 10-month-old son has been in intensive care for 22 days due to complications from heart surgery. His diet for the next 3 months is supposed to be Monogen milk, but Lubov cannot afford it. A 3-day supply costs 174,000 lei or $40 USD. Dan, Daria, and Nataliya are on a mission to find the milk, which is in short supply. They purchase 8 cans, a case of water, and some basic food supplies for Lubov, who hasn’t left her son’s side for those 22 days. It turns out the hospital doesn’t provide her even basic items such as food and water. 

While this group is shopping, Sue and Jamie are back at RomExpo. They’ve taken the remaining two duffel bags of clothes and shoes. A white and black puffy vest lasts only 2 minutes. The new owner is a warm, 70-something old woman whose grin shows multiple missing teeth. She excitedly rapid-fires Ukrainian at Jamie and Sue; they understand the gist of her words - she’s thrilled with her find and wants Jamie to take her picture wearing the vest. 

We see Olyssa (a woman Jamie and Sue met on the last trip) who asks if there are any size 41 shoes (US size 10.5). She’s been unable to find any in Romania. She only has one pair of shoes which she has worn daily for 5 months. A care package from the US is in her future. We work alongside 3 Mormons from Utah who have been volunteering since the start of the war. That’s 5 months for this mom, dad and son. So many generous and thoughtful people! 

The shoppers pick us up and we head to the Marie Curie Hospital to meet with Lubov. She comes down from ICU with a nurse to make sure she doesn’t break protocol with our visit. She’s wearing a mask and can’t get closer than 3 feet. She’s grateful for the milk, water and food, but can’t visit long due to hospital rules. 

The weather has been cloudless with brutally hot temperatures between 92-99. It frustrates the four of us since we’d like to be walking more to our destinations. We are concerned about the people in the massive communist style apartment buildings throughout this city of 1.8 million because we don’t see many window AC units. 

Over dinner, we discuss the various donation options. We appreciate that many of our friends and family have supported this mission. To us, that brings a heightened sense of responsibility to donate the funds to people and organizations we can trust to deploy those funds directly to families impacted by the war. We take that stewardship to heart and believe we have made some great connections.

July 22, 2022 –

We intentionally leave our last day open for exploring and finalizing our giving plan. We discover that Bulgaria is only 35 miles from Bucharest. Daria’s grandparents were from Bulgaria, and none of us have ever been there (not even Nataliya). So, we pile in the car for one more road trip and have lunch in Ruse, Bulgaria. We dine alongside the Danube and watch the barges float by. Ruse is a city of contrasts with beautiful architecture interrupted by numerous unattractive Communist-era buildings. Even as we finalize how to effectively use the funds donated to Refuse To Quit, Nataliya receives more calls about Ukrainian families who need help. The needs far outweigh our capacity. 

In the evening, we invite Victoria, our friend from Update #1, and Nataliya, to join us at an authentic Romanian restaurant in the historic old town. Over dinner, the women talk about their lives in Romania. Most Ukrainian men are not allowed to leave Ukraine in case they are called up for the war effort, so Nataliya and Victoria are in Bucharest without their husbands making the best of things (along with thousands of other women and families). Victoria’s husband hasn’t seen their 2-year old son, Daniel (who had heart surgery) in five months. Imagine not seeing your child during heart surgery and recovery!

Victoria and Nataliya share with us their love of Ukraine and its people. In spite of all of the hardships caused by Putin’s invasion, they remain positive. These two ladies inspire us with their attitude. They remain convinced that the war will be over soon and they will return to their old life. We hope and pray that they are right and that they and their families will be safely reunited.

Nataliya gets philosophical and tells us that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can start a tidal wave. She says that our love and support are the butterfly wings creating a tidal wave that will push the Russians out of Ukraine. 

It’s difficult to say goodbye to these two strong, cheerful women. After hugs and a few tears, we go our separate ways promising to see each other again.

We have spent 10 long days with Nataliya. She has been invaluable to us. She is a miracle worker.

Donations Update -

We launched Refuse To Quit four months ago to focus on supporting Ukrainian families, primarily women and children, who have been displaced from their homes as a result of the ongoing war with Russia. In that time, we have raised donations and pledges in excess of $200,000. As stewards of these funds, we are committed to have the money go directly to those in need and overseen by people we trust. To ensure our donated funds go directly to the relief effort, we pay our own way for travel, hotels, and meals.

Following are some of the donations we are considering in the upcoming weeks (in some cases there are logistical/procedural challenges to overcome first):

  • $22,000 for a much-needed ventilator for a hospital in Kyiv.
  • Truckload(s) of fresh vegetables for Cristi to take to displaced families in the Chernivtsi, Ukraine area (appx $9,000 per load). We will monitor this for potential ongoing support.
  • $2,500 for food, shelter and medical supplies for displaced families in the Chernivtsi area, distributed by our new friend, Igor. We will monitor this for potential ongoing support.
  • $10,000 for Mista Dobra for the construction of the new home for Ukrainian children with polio.

In addition, the Colbournes and Abshers were so impressed with the efforts of Cristi and Alina at Casa Ioana, we are donating individually to them. We felt it was important not to do this with Refuse To Quit funds because supporting a Romanian orphanage was not part of our original mission. 

Final Thoughts –

Now that our time in Romania and Ukraine has come to an end, we reflect on the people we’ve met. Our hearts go out to those who have had their lives upended by the Russian invasion. We are encouraged by the resilience of the Ukrainian people and by the heroes and saints we met who are providing a network of support for them.  

We have been asked frequently why we are doing this. Jamie provided the initial impetus, and all of us have embraced this mission. With that in mind, we will close with a short verse Dan wrote in response to those “why” questions: 

 Not Just

It’s not just believing, it’s seeing.

It’s not just seeing, it’s learning.

It’s not just learning, it’s understanding.

It’s not just understanding, it’s caring.

It’s not just caring, it’s sharing.

It’s not just sharing, it’s acting.

It’s not just acting, it’s impacting.

It’s not just impacting, it’s partnering.

It’s not just partnering, it’s thanking.

It’s not just thanking, it’s seeing.

It’s not just seeing, it’s believing.