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Almost immediately after Vlad and Yana Khorenko immigrated to San Diego from Ukraine in 2014, they were looking for ways to help those back home.

They began by sending any spare money they had, but quickly realized more was needed.

Since then, the Khorenkos have ramped up their efforts. About a year and a half ago, they founded I Care Ministries, a nonprofit working to raise money to support charitable projects in Ukraine.

Now that war is once again raging in Ukraine, there is an even greater need for aid, and the Khorenkos are doing everything in their power to help.

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“We’re just one small part of a big machine trying to help anybody we can,” Yana Khorenko said. “We need help.”

The larger effort to help assist Ukrainians includes a number of international aid groups. The Salvation Army, Red Cross and UNICEF are collecting donations for Ukrainians locally in San Diego, and humanitarian aid donations are also being accepted at local churches and cultural centers, such as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Spring Valley and the House of Ukraine at Balboa Park.

The Khorenkos chose to leave their home in Kremenchuk in the Poltava region of Ukraine in November 2014 for the safety of their young son and soon-to-be-born second child.

“The war was very dangerous,” Yana Khorenko said.

Though the Maidan revolution had already driven out Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych by early 2014, war simmered in eastern parts of the country as Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

“Since there was so much corruption and Russian interference into the democracy, we really didn’t have that full liberation yet,” Yana said.

As Russian activity continued to spread to other eastern areas, Ukrainians all over the country were suffering. Food production was hobbled in much of the country.

“We had church members who were on the brink of starvation,” said Yana Khorenko. The Khorenkos are Christian Protestants.

Grocery store shelves were bare, fridges were empty, and while the Khorenkos weren’t making much money in the U.S., they say they knew they were better off than those still in Ukraine in early 2015.

“We have food here, so we can sacrifice some,” Vlad Khorenko recalled thinking.

Ukrainians receive milk and other supplies from I Care Ministries, a San Diego nonprofit.

Ukrainians receive milk and other supplies from I Care Ministries, a San Diego nonprofit.

(Courtesy of I Care Ministries)

I Care Ministries tapped a network of more than 160 pastors in small villages across the country who were serving the most vulnerable, such as single mothers, orphans, seniors and the disabled. Through the nonprofit, the Khorenkos were able to gather supplies from neighboring countries and distribute them to those in the greatest need.

When Russia invaded Ukraine last month, the Khorenkos immediately knew the aid needed in Ukraine would be increasing exponentially.

An estimated 3.7 million of the 43 million people in Ukraine have fled following the Russian invasion and millions more are believed to have been displaced from their homes and continue to struggle to put food on the table.

“We were shocked at first,” Yana Khorenko said, thinking, “We have to do something. We can do something.”

In Ukraine, the basics had once again become essential, as food, water, medical supplies and even candles for lighting were in short supply.

The Khorenkos began contacting pastors to determine their greatest needs. They sent money, but when supplies in Ukraine began to run out, they worked with partners in neighboring countries to send truckloads of supplies across the border.

Since the war began, the Khorenkos have heard horrible stories of the conditions facing Ukrainians. Yana Khorenko said one pastor told her they had helped feed a family with 10 kids who had not eaten for days.

“The kids were crying with joy that they had some food to eat,” she said. “That was really difficult for me to hear … It just broke my heart.”

Help is also needed for Ukrainian refugees arriving in the U.S. who need temporary lodging and basic supplies, such as food and clothing. Last week, the Biden administration announced the U.S. will welcome 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing the war.

The Khorenkos said they are working to find local organizations or residents in San Diego willing to temporarily lodge refugees, and with other local organizations to collect clothing and food donations for them. The County of San Diego’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs has said it will continue to work closely with state and federal agencies to ensure that those refugees coming to San Diego have the needed support to succeed.

“Now with the war, there is an even greater need for aid in Ukraine,” Vlad Khorenko said. “I believe many people in San Diego want to help, but don’t know how.”

For more information on ways to help, visit icareministrys.org or email [email protected].

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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