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We have been so happy to find willing volunteers and helpful partners in our continued efforts to help the people of Ukraine. You can donate HERE.
Mid April, Big Ocean Women board member, Vilma, went with two volunteers, Valerie VanLeuven Ockey and Jarrod Rodriguez to visit Marta at the orphanage in Ukraine and deliver important medical supplies. Valerie is a nurse and was able to give training on some of the special equipment that had been recommended by Dr. Stephen Noorlander and generously donated.
Here are some pictures and brief explanations from Vilma documenting their trip:
First there was sorting and packing to be done, getting precious donations into luggage and totes that could go with them on the plane.
They had help getting all of the luggage to the airport and were sent off with love.
Vilma: We departed on Tuesday April 12 to Paris. Due to the amount of luggage we were carrying, it took much longer to go through security than expected, and we missed our connection. We stayed at the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport for seven hours until the next flight to Bucharest. We arrived in Bucharest at 1:30 in the morning and got through immigration and customs and filed a report for two missing bags. Around 2:30 am we met up with two missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder and Sister Probst. They stayed with us at the train station until the train left at 6:50 in the morning. These missionaries and some young missionaries and volunteers helped us carry our bags, totes, and suitcases to the train going to Suceava.
Vilma: Many angels helped us in Bucharest. They helped us carry our nearly 20 bags and suitcases from the airport to the train station, and they waited until our train departed. Among our angels were a group of volunteers under the leadership of Bobo who worked as a security guard during the day and volunteers a couple evenings at the station. He showed us the facilities they prepared for the refugees and all the donations were private and the volunteers were civilian people like him. Many young people volunteer as interpreters to help refugees. In one of the photos I’m next to one of the interpreters.
Vilma: On the way to Suceava, Romania, we passed through some small villages. . . more rural area. People got on and off the train; they seemed worried and introverted.
Arriving in Suceava:
Vilma: Elder and Sister Downs were waiting for us. A van and a driver sent by Marta was also waiting, and we gave him all the bags we brought for Marta, Solomon Smith, Ana’s brother, and Zhenia. We were left with sandwiches at an air bnb to get some rest before our visit to Marta in Ukraine.
Vilma: Friday, we were able to help in a warehouse with other volunteers and missionaries loading humanitarian aid supplies to be sent into Ukraine.
Vilma: On Saturday, April 16, we got a taxi from Suceava to the Ukrainian border. The drive was about 45 minutes. The landscape and buildings were beautiful.
Vilma: The taxi driver left us at the Romania/Ukraine border. On the Romanian side, we noticed many NGOs with their tents with food, water, and many volunteers ready to help the refugees. We were a little apprehensive as we were the only people passing on foot to the Ukrainian border along with the vehicles transporting humanitarian items. Getting through the federal police was relatively easy. They didn’t ask many questions after we told them we were going for humanitarian purposes.
Once past the border, we met Marta’s driver by this gas station. We had received his photo and knew his name, so it was easy to recognize him. We were relieved to find a familiar face in a completely unfamiliar place. Although we could feel an air of suspense, people seemed nice.
Vilma: As we drove to Marta’s shelter, despite some uneasiness in the air, everything seemed normal, few cars on the road, but gas stations working normally. Well-kept properties, new construction, beautiful residential area!
Vilma: We finally arrived at Marta’s shelter. Everything was very clean and organized. Visitors had to take off their shoes or cover them with disposable booties. There were beds in every possible place to accommodate the refugees.
Vilma: We were amazed at the organization of the shelter in general. The top level was the orphanage. The babies were very well taken care of, with 4 or 5 loving attendants who worked day and night. The babies were well fed and cared for. (per regulations, the faces of the orphans have been blurred for their safety)
Vilma: The common area was a gathering place where children played, adults played the piano or sang. This place looked like an oasis amidst the chaos of the other cities around it.
Vilma: Like I mentioned before, on the top level was the orphanage. They were babies to about two years old and were taking a nap when we arrived. The walls were nicely painted; the cribs were new, beautiful new covers and a lot of clothing. The children were well fed, clean, and seemed happy. In the room next to it were 11 children with special needs. We brought an AffloVest for a baby boy with cerebral palsy, who could not move and had trouble breathing. Valerie Ockey, a nurse in our group, gave the attendants instructions on how to use the equipment. They had about 3 to 4 full time attendants. The room was similar to the previous one with new furniture and many clothes.
Vilma: Marta showed us her beloved city of Chernivtsi which was once part of Austria and is full of architectural, historical, and cultural beauty.
During the day and night we heard some sirens, but it stopped soon. The next day, Marta’s driver was waiting for us and dropped us off at the border with Romania. We crossed the boarder with the same ease; we showed documents, and they didn’t ask, maybe because of the fact that it was normal to have people leaving the country constantly.
A refugee transport van was waiting. It was interesting to experience a little bit how the refugees may be feeling. The van was packed with worried faces, overwhelmed, and even hopeless people. Across the border many volunteers were awaiting the refugees with food, water, a place to stay, and they try their best to accommodate their needs.
After a visit in the city of Bucharest, our volunteers returned home feeling “satisfied with the mission accomplished.” Our support to Marta has helped her to accommodate the many refugees that have come to her shelter and the orphans that were brought to her when their orphanage was no longer safe. She is doing a great work, and your donations have helped. We have also helped to deliver equipment to other trusted organizations and friends to help keep drivers who deliver food and supplies to people who cannot leave, and those who are working to protect their homes and families. We will continue to help where we can, and appreciate your support in doing that.
Vilma said, “Many thanks to Ann and Carolina for their incredible help and support sorting out complicated logistics, working 24/7 contacting people to help us, getting places that we could stay that were safe and comfortable. It was an incredible and unparalleled experience, and I appreciate this unique opportunity.”
Anna Lewis is from Ukraine and lives in Spanish Fork, UT, USA. She had been contributing to and following the work of Marta Levchenko who lives in Ukraine. Before the war, Marta founded a women’s and children’s shelter for women fleeing domestic violence in Chernivtsi. When the Russian invasion started, Marta welcomed women and children fleeing from bombs and bullets. Beds were filled, then floors, as she was housing much more than her building was designed for. They were in the middle of a construction project to increase their space, but had spent all of their money to provide food and shelter to refugees and bake bread to give to those fighting to protect them. Anna was connected with Big Ocean Women who wanted a way to help with the horror that had been reported.
At 2 am MST on February 28th, a prayer vigil and international Zoom meeting was held at Thanksgiving Point thanks to the generous Ashton Family Foundation, and the Director of Private Events, Molina Welker who came herself. Big Ocean Women and their friends from around the world gathered to hear and see Marta explain what was happening. She was late because they had been in the bomb shelter that had no WiFi signal. She showed the beautiful building that she had for women and children where they could be safe and learn skills. She introduced some of the women who were thankful to know that people cared about them and what they were facing. The children sang and played in a brightly colored room, and Marta explained that they tell the children they are playing hide and seek when the sirens signal it is time to play (go to the basement/bomb shelter). She showed the bread they are making to feed the defenders, and joyfully explained that one of the mothers baking beautiful bread had come to her as a teenaged mother with no skills and no hope. As the meeting was nearing the end, Marta’s signal dropped. She messaged to say they had to go play their hide and seek game.
We had hoped to be able to raise money to help her finish her building to have more space for refugees and to restock her empty pantry. If there was enough, we would also donate to her friend who ran the National Children’s Specialized Hospital. Already there were children who were victims of the shelling and invasion. We have done that and so much more. We thought our hope was lofty when we started, but we had faith in the goodness of people and of God, and that was only the beginning of what generous donations and miraculous connections has enabled Big Ocean Women to do.
To date, $35,257 has been donated online at https://secure.givelively.org/donate/big-ocean-women/ukraine-support And over $50,000 has been donated directly from private donors including Melinda Brown and the Wheelwright Family Foundation, the Larsen Family Foundation, the Good Samaritan Foundation, Fidelity Charity and other private doners. We have partnered with longtime friends at Lifting Hands International and Stitching Hearts Worldwide as well as with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to coordinate immediate efforts and long-term help for refugees.
JoAnna Larsen, a friend and trained emergency manager, was able to fly to Poland to help those fleeing across the border, and also to help send supplies with drivers who come to the border but cannot cross. Thanks to the generous donations, she took some things with her, and is able to shop for much needed items there in Poland to send to the people who remain in Ukraine.
We were able to send relief money to help another of Anna Lewis’s friends who leads a religious group of peaceful believers who had to get out of Ukraine because their religion forbids them using any sort of weapon. He and his wife and three children were able to get to Slovakia and are now sending goods back to his congregation.
Church Youth Groups and Relief Societies with Big Ocean Women members and friends have put together hygiene kits. Cottage members and Stitching Hearts Worldwide have made and are making quilts. Youth groups and neighborhood friends have gone shopping and collected medical supplies, tents, generators, and sleeping bags to fill shipping containers coordinated by Lifting Hands International. Merchants such as Sophia Survival, Big Five Sports, Sportsman’s Warehouse, Jmart Printing, and Recreation Outlet gave deep discounts to allow the donated money to be spread farther. Canyon View Medical Group, Hope Clinic, Springville Dermatology, EMT of Utah, Stone Drug and others have donated medical supplies and medications valued at thousands of dollars.
Big Ocean Women members and friends have been gathering donations of and money to purchase much needed uniforms, helmets, bulletproof vests, medical supplies, night vision goggles, drones, and other things that would help the freedom fighters. Miraculous connections have been made and generous people and organizations have helped us to be able to get those urgently needed supplies on their way to Ukraine faster than had been expected.
Our friend, Dr. Stephen Noorlander went to help at Marta’s shelter and assess the needs of the newly placed refugees from an orphanage that were brought to her.
We are still asking for monetary donations which we are sending to Marta, JoAnna, and other trusted friends and organizations. The need is ongoing. Marta and the women at her shelter continue to help and welcome all they can. They bake bread for refugees and freedom fighters. They send supplies to people who cannot get out and continue to support the hospitals in the area. You can follow more progress on our Facebook page. Your donations, no matter how small help do amazing things.
A portion of this article was published by Meridian Magazine included in an article by Sarah Hinze