PART 1 | UKRAINE. May 2-8, 2022

When I went to Ukraine (May 2-8, 2022) with a team from Water for All, I witnessed first-hand why water is urgently needed in Ukraine and learned about how the war’s displacement of Ukrainians is opening the door for human traffickers. Due to war, infrastructure (including water sources) has been destroyed and people are suffering, especially in occupied areas, places of active conflict, on the front lines, and as first responders. We went to deliver filters to the people of Ukraine and to explore partnerships for deploying many thousands more in the days to come.

Below are some glimpses – in chapters – of our team’s time with the people of Ukraine and Poland. It was SUCH an extraordinary and whirlwind of a trip and I am still basking in the gift of being able to BE WITH the heroic, courageous, fierce people of Ukraine … and to do what we do: explore ways to make a difference locally and globally, TOGETHER.

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Chapter 1: OUR TEAM.

Our team was composed of a number of amazing people – some came with us to Ukraine and others stayed back home. Led by Vivoblu and Water for All, we each came together eager to contribute what we could to connect with, share water filters, build friendship, and cultivate hope with the people of Ukraine. Our on-the-ground team:
  • John DeYoung, founder of Vivoblu and Water for All
  • Morgan Braby, communications director and logistics for Vivoblu and Water for All
  • Matt Tatusko, president of Vivoblu and logistics for Water for All
  • Ricky Waitman, co-founder of Pur International and Finn’s Army
  • Terry Adams, director of Discovery and Outreach Program at Valor
  • Sarah Davison-Tracy, author, speaker, founder (Seeds of Exchange)

Just so you understand how John DeYoung and I are working together: John is the maker of the filter (through his company Vivoblu) and founder of the non-profit (Water for All). John and I are dear friends. He is a hip-hop dance artist turned business owner and nonprofit founder. He is a mighty changemaker and creative that uses innovation to care for those in need. I am the founder of a community organization (Seeds of Exchange) that has been part of raising funds for the Vivoblu filters, sharing the stories of the filter and our trip, building a network of community within Ukraine and around the world, and reporting on the increase of human trafficking due to the war in Ukraine.

 

Chapter 2: PRE-TRIP NEWS STORIES.

Wow. THIS was amazing. Thanks in large part to our soul sistah and Seeds PR rockstar, Lisa McAlister / With Good Cause, Inc., we had a flurry of press the 48 hours before our departure. People are SO EXCITED and INSPIRED to hear our story in which a community of everyday citizens is doing what we can to care for the people of Ukraine … and for each other.

You can watch the news stories here:

 

Chapter 3. PRE-TRIP WATER FILTER PACKING PARTY.

It takes a village to change the world. –John DeYoung

‘Tis true, indeed!! Two nights before our departure for Ukraine and Poland, we headed to our amazing team-member’s house, Ricky (and his wife, Becca) for some time to hang as friends and family for food, prayer, and packing of 400 filters and prenatal vitamins (no small thing!). What a night it was!!

 

Chapter 4: LUBLIN, POLAND.

When we landed in Poland (May 3), we headed to Lublin to meet up with our logistics team, Matt and Morgan. We enjoyed a team dinner – pierogi (potato dumplings), pastes (flavor-packed spreads for bread or just to eat by the spoonful!), delicious soups with rich broth, and a decadent melted cheese board. Matt and Morgan debriefed us with their learnings about water filter logistics and their findings from multiple trips to explore Poland-into-Ukraine border crossings.

Also, while at the airport BEFORE we left Denver yesterday, our human trafficking reporting got personal. We were contacted by a friend in Ukraine who asked for help on getting a young woman out of Ukraine and back home to the USA. Within five hours of being in Poland, this young woman arrived at our hotel, where we were able to listen to her story, pray with her, and provide her with a safe place to stay. The following day, we booked her a ticket and get her on an airplane back to the USA. Due to privacy and security concerns, I will not go into further detail about this situation, beyond reporting that she made it home safely to her family, where we hope and pray, she can begin to heal.

 

Chapter 5: PRZEMYSL, POLAND (NEAR THE BORDER OF UKRAINE).

Przemyśl is located in the southeast part of Poland, near the border with Ukraine (approximately 10 km away). Lviv, in Ukraine, is approximately 100 km away from Przemyśl. It is one of the cities at the border of Poland where Ukrainian refugees are being bused to and taken care of by countless, extraordinary local and international NGOs. While there, our team got to meet some of these remarkable humanitarians serving the flood of refugees from Ukraine.

 

Chapter 6: HUMAN TRAFFICKING | UKRAINE WAR.

While in Poland and Ukraine, I met up with local freedom fighters working day and night to serve and support Ukrainian refugees. Explore our story – which will continue to be updated – about The Rise of Human Trafficking in Ukraine.

I had a conversation with Ruslan – a humanitarian worker with YWAM Ternopil – at a refugee center housing displaced Ukrainians at the border of Poland and Ukraine about human trafficking today due to the displacement of people from Ukraine. (Watch the video in the our story about The Rise of Human Trafficking in Ukraine.)

Human trafficking is happening. One time I was at the border and some people arrived with vans of humanitarian aid. They seemed to be nice and polite people. But at the end, one of the guys asked me if they could go into Ukraine to pick up orphans and single moms to take with them. As we began to talk, he could tell I was suspicious, and they left.

People are doing this – posing as aid organizations and then trafficking people – mostly women and girls.

This is a huge problem here. We are working to respond to new ways human traffickers are working in the area. -Ruslan

The next day, when in Ukraine, John DeYoung and I had a few hours in a car to speak with Nadia Gordynsky (Save a Life International) about her experience encountering vulnerable women and children at Ukraine’s borders. (Watch the video in the our story about The Rise of Human Trafficking in Ukraine.)

When we were on the Romanian border, there were a lot of women and young girls crossing the border without any supervision.We saw three young girls who were crossing the border. When we asked them where they were going, they said, “There are guys from Turkey and they told us to wait here. They have a bus and we’re going to go to Turkey. We’re going to get jobs.”

She got in a car with us, with strangers. We had good intentions. But there are many people who don’t.

Sex trafficking has increased. We heard this from border officials. -Nadia

Nadia spoke about rape as a weapon of war in Ukraine and how she believes it is because Russians do not see Ukrainians as human beings. According to Nadia, women and children are hurt the most.

Russia doesn’t believe that Ukrainians have the right to exist. So, it’s not about just killing. It’s about wiping out the nation.

When you want to hurt a nation, a people, what do you do? You hurt the most precious thing they have. So, it’s not about just killing. It’s about destroying the dignity of a nation.

That’s what sexual violence does. It touches your soul, destroys the identity of the Ukrainian people and that’s a really, really dangerous thing. -Nadia

 

Chapter 7: VIVOBLU WATER FOR ALL FILTERS | UKRAINE.

Due to war, infrastructure (including water sources) has been destroyed and people are suffering, especially in occupied areas, places of active conflict, on the front lines, and as first responders. We went to deliver filters to the people of Ukraine and to explore partnerships for deploying many thousands more in the days to come.

According to the UN, “Young children who live in conflict zones are 20 times more likely to die from diarrheal diseases linked to unsafe water than from direct violence, as a result of war.”

 

Chapter 8: HEADING IN | UKRAINE.

We thought and prayed long and hard about whether to go into Ukraine, due to the war and obvious security concerns. Once we landed in Poland and the doors flew open for us to make some extraordinary connections on the ground in Ukraine, our team decided, collectively, that we would go in, TOGETHER.

May 5, 2022 | I set up a text thread on WhatsApp with our point of contact (Iryna Utkina – with Young Life Ukraine) for our time in Ukraine and our spouses / partners, should there be any need to communicate emergently, as we were told we needed to go “dark” and not utilize our cell phones while in Ukraine, due to security concerns. How grateFULL we were for Iryna’s support. (And, you’ll soon hear, how VITAL was her partnership and collaboration for our journey!)

May 6, 2022 | We got up before dawn and drove 40 minutes to Medyka, Poland. We parked our cars at the border, made some finishing touches on our packing jobs of filters and prenatal vitamins, and prepared to tote them across the border.

We crossed the border with no problems, and met Sasha Uktin – Iryna’s husband – who loaded our many bags into his car. (How we would come to LOVE this man!) Driving into Ukraine, we passed lines of cars and cargo trucks exiting Ukraine that were 10 km long.

As we drove toward Lviv, we saw markets of kerchief-clad women selling bouquets of flowers on sidewalk markets, people mowing their lawns, and sweeping their front porches. We also passed several immense construction projects. We were struck that even in war, with the potential of being bombed, the people of Ukraine were determined to go about their daily lives. (The courage and compassion of the people of this country were about to blow our socks off … and hearts open!)

 

Chapter 9. SIGNS SUPPORTING UKRAINE.

These pictures are a glimpse of the global support of the people of Ukraine – many of which I snapped on the way to and within Ukraine.
A nudge: Pause and say a prayer or a blessing for the people of Ukraine when you come across a sign or hear a story about the war. These days are not easy. May we standTALL with our sisters and brothers in Ukraine as we go about our daily lives. -Sarah DT

 

Chapter 10. LVIV with SAVE A LIFE INTERNATIONAL | UKRAINE.

Arriving in Lviv on May 4, we met Nadia Gordynsky, founder of Save A Life International, and Alla Marivtsan, the organization’s country director. Over a delicious breakfast of baguettes, cheese, tomato, eggs, and coffee, Nadia shared a bit of her story. She is Ukrainian-American. Passionate. Articulate. Fierce.

She was ecstatic over the prenatal vitamins, and thanks to the Water for All partnership with Kirk Humanitarian (see Chapter 11 below), we were able to load her down with 300 bottles. (She indicated she would need thousands more, which John DeYoung is working on now.) We’d bought diapers/pampers for the babies, too – so they had a wonderful HAUL for the crisis pregnancy centers throughout Ukraine.

This organization has 8 teen pregnancy and women’s support locations in Ukraine. One of their locations was just recently bombed and destroyed. Nadia shared stories about some women who have come to their centers who had been raped by Russian soldiers and are now pregnant, along with some miraculous survival stories of women delivering babies in the midst of war.

Each one of her centers are not only supporting pregnant teens and women, but also thousands of refugees seeking shelter and many tons of aid. We came to learn how their work, like so many NGO’s in Ukraine, has expanded beyond their mission in order to care for Ukrainians amid the crises of war and they have assisted many in need of evacuation (mostly to Romania, out of Chernivtsi) and aid delivery (mostly food). Yesterday, they opened up Lviv’s first crisis teen pregnancy center. Nadia’s passion and commitment for the last 15 years is evident and deeply inspired our team.

 

Chapter 11. KIRK HUMANITARIAN | UKRAINE.

A few months’ back, John DeYoung connected with Spencer Kirk, co-founder of Kirk Humanitarian. Kirk Humanitarian is now partnering with Water for All by providing 1 year of prenatal vitamins for every water filter. (The partnerships just keep on RIPPLING!!) In case they are new to you, as they were to me, learn more here: Impact Stories.

Kirk Humanitarian’s mission is to accelerate availability, access, uptake, and use of United Nations International Multiple Micronutrient Antenatal Preparation Multiple Micronutrient Supplements (UNIMMAP MMS) for women at risk of undernutrition during pregnancy to create a healthier and more equitable world.

This matters – ’round the world – SO MUCH. It is jaw-dropping to see the ways in which global collaboration is making a MIGHTY DIFFERENCE locally and globally.