An Escondido business owner raised $60,000 and packed 16 suitcases with medical kits and other items to take to families displaced by war in Ukraine.
Oleksandr Shumishyn and a friend traveled 30 hours on commercial flights and by car to reach the Ukrainian border. The temperatures were below freezing and the roads were icy and treacherous, but Shumishyn, owner of an HVAC business in Escondido, was up for the challenge.
“The biggest problem there was transportation. There were people who volunteered to allow the refugees to live in their house, but they lived two or three hours away,” Shumishyn explained.
He rented two large vans to take nine people to shelters at a time. On the way back there was always a stop at the bulk food store.
“We would just buy nonsense, bread, water, oranges and cookies,” Shumishyn said.
They also brought blankets and medicine. The supplies have been distributed to a makeshift border transport hub where the refugees wait.
“Thousands of people are absolutely lost. Women, mostly children. Women, children and people crying,” Shumishyn said.
Some never find housing. The night is the worst for young families. As Shumishyn says, they don’t know how to be refugees.
“When you get there, you feel it. You’re part of it. It’s a lot,” Shumishyn said.
Shumishyn is one of them, and not just as a volunteer. He grew up in Ukraine and emigrated to the United States 20 years ago. His 9-year-old daughter, Yeva, lives in Odessa with his ex-wife.
The future weighs heavily on Shumishyn’s mind and heart. Like many in Ukraine, he fears that Russia’s next move could be nuclear.
“We don’t really know if it’s possible, or not just the thought. I mean, what could be worse?” Shumishyn said.
Shumishyn continues to fundraise for a second trip scheduled in two to three weeks. Next time he said he planned to take a lot more volunteers and more vans.
The focus will be on supporting all those families who were barely eating but are now hosting war refugees.