Ukraine and Romania

The realities of volunteering in a country plagued with war

April 10, 2022

We won’t bore you with the logistics of checking five large duffel bags of donated items weighing 267 pounds, the long flight, sleep deprivation, or lost luggage.  That’s not why we’re here.  That brings up the question of why are we here - to help the Ukrainian refugees and fighters in any way we can?  So please sit back, relax, and read our story.


On our first evening, before heading to bed we met with three volunteers to drop off huge duffle bags of medical aid and Kevlar vests that will be delivered to Kyiv and the front lines. This duffle was assembled by an attorney in Seattle who had recently spent three months in Kyiv. This package created unbelievable expressions of gratitude and smiles. 


Day 1 was jam-packed with appointments set up by our driver/interpreter, Nataliya. She is a Ukrainian refugee herself who escaped in one car with her parents, daughter, sister-in-law, and her daughter – all now living in a small apartment in Bucharest. They left her husband and brother behind in Kyiv. Unbeknownst to us, she had a very successful hospitality business (hotel and one-bedroom suites) in the center of Kyiv.  Their business was finally on the rebound from COVID when the war started. 


Our day started with meeting Oana Gheorghia at Daruieste Viata, a nonprofit founded by her and two other women who raised $65M US to build the first new public hospital in Bucharest in 50 years. This children’s hospital providing free medical care will open in six months. Their foundation shifted gears when the war broke out providing medical supplies to Ukraine.  Our interpreter, Nataliya is volunteering with them as their Ukrainian expert. Nataliya, through a friend who’s the head neurosurgeon at a hospital in Kyiv has contacted 12 hospitals compiling a list of much-needed supplies.  This foundation has successfully sent 19.5 tons of supplies and is currently working on its 4th shipment. They will supply us with a list of much-needed medical supplies. Do you have any contacts in the medical industry you can share with us?


Next stop, the Gara de Nord train station where the refugees are bused after crossing the border into Romania or arrive by train. This gave us valuable insight into the Romanian efforts to greet, feed, house, and provide travel onward to other EU countries via train. There are 4 rooms for the refugees in the station.  One is the World Kitchen, 2 and 3 are the Romanian and Ukrainian volunteers and 4 is the Red Cross. Room 3 is designated for families, room 2 is for women with small children, no men allowed.


Outside the World Kitchen room, we encountered a Ukrainian grandmother, Galina with her daughter, Gretchen, and 2-month-old granddaughter Alexandra in a carriage.  Nataliya determined they were trying to get to the Ukrainian embassy to obtain the infant’s passport papers. The grandmother broke out in sobs, they had been at the train station for 1.5 hours waiting for a ride to the Embassy. After getting clearance from the local authorities, (they are very careful with human trafficking) we drove the family to the Embassy where they became #37 to have their issue addressed. Nataliya contacted her friend in the Paris Ukrainian Embassy who called her local counterpart. The net result, the ambassador personally came out and took the family into the embassy removing them from the long line. They got the baby’s papers within a few hours. We left the family with $50 and they thanked us, but only after insisting on a group picture – the tears flowed and they referred to us as their guardian angels – Jamie an angel; really! 


From the embassy, we went to the call center for the Ukrainian refugees meeting with the founder/director. This center coordinates the efforts of the new and existing refugees with over 300 volunteers (35 Ukrainian speakers).


Our final stop that day was at a Child’s Clinical Psychologist’s office. No, Sue wasn’t experiencing a breakdown! Adela has turned a room within her office space into a help center. She is collecting clothing and food and offering weekly classes for the refugees to learn Romanian. This amazing young woman doesn’t even speak Ukrainian but just felt a personal calling to help.  While there we met two Ukrainian women (Luda and Nataliia) who needed shoes for themselves and their children. Note Nataliia came to Romania with only the clothes on her back.  BTW…. Oh, do we have shoes and new socks! We brought 167 pairs of primarily new shoes with us from our generous Scottsdale friends and Brooks Running. 


Day 2: Back at the train station to drop off about 70 pairs of shoes at the clothing tent for refugees. Luda and Nataliia have offered to meet us to help organize them. To put this in perspective, in Ukraine, Luda worked at the American University Kyiv teaching English, math, and history in English. Nataliia was a special effects makeup artist in the film industry.  Luda has escaped with 3 children. These are successful Ukrainian women who are now dependent on the goodness of the Romanian people for virtually everything. 


Luda and Nataliia are coming with us to the Psychologist’s office to sort the other half of the shoes before the Ukrainians show up for the language class at 11:00 am. Before we depart the train station, we encounter a refugee, Oksana who only has the tall, heeled boots on her feet while her son, Erik has only slippers.  Our procession heads to Nataliya’s car where we find shoes out of the trunk for Okana and Erik. 


Erik with his new shoes

Back at Adela’s Child’s Clinical Psychologist’s office, we experience a rush of women who are waiting for our shoes….word travels fast! Help alert, an elderly woman comes in wearing handmade crocheted shoes. We assist her to find the appropriate size of a new shoe.  She gives the thumbs up when one fits.


A family comes in and a toddler girl makes eye contact with a Cinderella carriage. She squeals and runs across the floor to grab it.  It just hits me then, when you only have the clothes on your back and the items you can carry, toys don’t make the essential list.  Before leaving Adela’s, we obtain a grocery list to stock up on her ever-depleting shelves of food and essential goods. 


Last night, we attended a private party at the art museum which is housed in a small portion of their Parliament building. Osana invited us and unbeknownst to us, it was a family YPO event.  We met a few of their members including Fady Chreih, CEO of the largest private healthcare network, Regina Maria in Romania.  He has been sending supplies to Ukraine and is offering FREE medical care to all Ukrainian refugees. Jamie has connected with Fady and we’ll see if something arises out of this connection.


Well, that was our first two full days here. Some general thoughts on funding, 1. Support Oana in her efforts to get medical supplies to the Ukraine.  2. Assist Adela in renting an additional room where she’d like to provide daycare for Ukrainian women getting into the workforce.


Thanks for taking the time to be a part of this journey and supporting the efforts of the Ukrainian people.




Jamie and Sue