An Escondido business owner raised $60,000 and packed 16 suitcases with medical kits and other items to bring to families displaced by the war in Ukraine.
Oleksandr Shumishyn and a friend traveled 30 hours by commercial flights and car to get to the Ukrainian boarder. The temperatures were below freezing and the roads were icy and treacherous, but Shumishyn, who ownes an HVAC company in Escondido, was up for the task.
“The biggest problem there was transportation. There were people that volunteered to allow refugees to live in their house, but they lived two hours away or three hours away,” Shumishyn explained.
He rented two large vans to take nine people at a time to shelters. On the return trip there was always a stop at the bulk food store.
Get San Diego local news, weather forecasts, sports and lifestyle stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC San Diego newsletters.
“We would just buy basically baloney, bread, water, oranges and cookies," Shumishyn said.
They also brought blankets and medicine. The supplies were handed out at a makeshift border transportation hub where refugees wait.
"Thousands of people absolutely lost. Women, children mostly. Women, children, and people crying," Shumishyn said.
Some never finding a place to stay. Nighttime is the worst for the young families. As Shumishyn puts it, 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 a part of it, 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 heavy on Shumishyn's mind and heart. Like many in Ukraine, he fears Russia’s next move may 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 raise money for a second trip planned two to three weeks from now. Next time he said he plans to take many more volunteers and more vans.
The focus will be supporting all those families that were barely feeding themselves but are now housing war refugees.