Local Help for Ukrainian Refugees: Orindans Reach Out

(Courtesy of Grace Paik)
At SFO, Grace Paik and their four-legged family member sent her husband Seung off to begin his journey to help Ukrainian refugees.

    Ukraine is still under attack, but Orinda is part of the relief force. Through an international partnership of churches, Orinda residents Seung and Grace Paik are part of an effort to help the suffering Ukrainians.
    Seung, and Pastor Sam Shin and Elder Dr. Thomas Kim from Wellspring Church in San Ramon, brought supplies to the war zone. Seung recently returned from the embattled nation after dropping off materials and supporting the effort to get refugees to safety in Spain.
    Seung said at first the plan was to take supplies to a church in Romania for distribution there.
    “We weren’t initially thinking that we were going to have to cross the border,” he said. “We thought everything was going to happen right outside of Ukraine in Romania. It wasn’t until we arrived, that we pivoted to making the trek into Ukraine.”
    Entering southwest Ukraine, the three eventually got to their destination, about a one-hour drive from the war-town city of Lviv. The city has recently become a refuge for Ukrainians escaping other areas of the country and is used as a transfer point on the way to Poland. The entire region also serves as a crucial military and humanitarian supply route.
    Seung’s team delivered canned and other non-perishable food, blankets, diapers, infant formula and even strollers. In addition to medical supplies, they also brought clothing, including jackets, socks and shoes.
    After the drop-offs, some of the empty vans were then ready to be used for transporting refugees. Sadly, he said, there was a delay in the plan. At the time they were going to Poland, Seung and his pastor tested positive for COVID-19. Luckily, the project was jumpstarted again when another church aid organization stepped in and worked with them to get refugees to host families in Spain.
    Eleven orphans and two elderly guardians were relocated to Vilafranca, Spain, where the local pastor and his wife opened their home. The children were between the ages of 8-18, are all part of the same orphanage near an area devastated by attacks. Seung said this is a long-term situation and means the refugees can live with their hosts indefinitely.
    Eventually, 36 additional refugees made it to Spain to live with host families through the local church there.
    Many of the children didn’t have toys or learning tools. Games and materials that stimulate educational activities aren’t just for fun; they’re essentials for these traumatized refugees.
    Owning a children’s art supply business, Grace was not only able to contribute her own supplies for the children, but was able to network with vendors, distributors and partners of children’s toys and art supplies.
    “She energized these people that she has contacts and networks with in Europe, and they also began sending boxes and boxes of donations,” said Seung.
    A local news outlet in Spain got ahold of the story and gave the pastor equipment to record his story. They produced a short TV clip and aired it to millions, resulting in a deluge of offers for support, including a dentist offering to come all the way from Barcelona to give free dental care to the orphans.
    “It’s amazing how that happened because of what he our pastor decided to do for these refugees, and then how people responded as a result,” said Seung.
    Seung talked poignantly about the university students evacuated from Kyiv who helped unload and distribute supplies – all while anti-missile defense sirens blared and the occasional thuds of bombs were heard from miles away.
    One student approached Seung and asked where he was from. He told the young man about the partnership of churches from the U.S., Spain and Romania. Overwhelmed by the international scope of the project, the student asked, “Why are you guys here?”
    Seung assured the student there are people all over the world praying for and supporting Ukraine.
    “We have a connection, and we had an opportunity to serve you,” said Seung.
    He said the student was obviously amazed by the effort and no doubt saw some hope amidst all the despair.
    “When I left for Romania and Ukraine, I thought we were delivering supplies,” added Seung. “When in fact, we were delivering hope!”

Dave Fonseca can be reached at davef52@gmail.com.

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