BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The war in Ukraine continues to alter life for those that live there. People from the east and south of the country flee their homes for the west and neighboring countries. But during the crisis human kindness continues to prevail.
Children to Love International has been around 29 years, helping orphaned abandoned, and at-risk children around the world. They have done so here in Bakersfield and they’ve been doing the work with local partners in Romania, Thailand, India, Uganda, and most recently Ukraine.
They've since expanded their efforts to help all the refugees they can, those staying in Lviv, Ukraine, or fleeing to neighboring countries like Poland and Romania.
Irina Pisarenko, director of their partner organization in Ukraine, Future for Children, says that 300,000 refugees have fled eastern Ukraine to Lviv since the war began in February. She knows what they’re going through as the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 led her to leave her home of Mariupol in 2015 to Kyiv. Eventually, she relocated Lviv.
“We started to work with families in crisis back then. And when this war started, we just couldn’t leave, because I understand what they are going through.”
Providing food, shelter, and medical supplies on the ground, is more than a humanitarian effort.
“What you think about more than anything else is saving your life when you’re in the middle of such crisis. And trying to escape war and then when you’re in a safer place you think about everything you lost there, and what is happening.”
Pisarenko has been working on the ground, providing shelter and transportation for the first two weeks of the war for those planning to go to neighboring countries like Poland and Romania. Pisarenko and her translator, Volodia Kochko and their spouses even slept in their hallways to accommodate refugees fleeing from south and east Ukraine during that time.
"We just have God’s love in our hearts, which moved us to stay here and be able to help them," she said.
For those staying in Lviv who have shelter Future for Children is providing medical supplies, mental health support, and food with the help of Children to Love International in Bakersfield.
The organization’s president, John Penrose, says they get donations from the U.S. Including in Bakersfield and are able to wire money to their partners to get those much-needed supplies.
“We’re a Christian organization that believes God loves the least of these. Our partners in Romania and Ukraine are individual, within the context of their own countries and communities, but they are exclusively a part of the CTL family.”
“As a remarkable result of a gentleman here who had been involved with our work in Romania," continued Penrose. "He had retired from the oil company and decided he wanted to move to Ukraine. He saw the huge needs there, met Irina and some others, and the ministry and the work of future for children began.”
The organization's director of development and strategic partnerships, Victor Popa says they’ve even partnered with three churches in Lviv, providing shelter and basic needs and are working to help refugees who have fled from Ukraine to Romania. Six to eight churches in Bakersfield are helping them regularly with their outreach.
“Much of the churches in the U.S. We’ll take short-term trips to help with our work in all the countries we work in," explained Popa. "Many of the people that live in the community here have personal relationships with Irina in Ukraine, and in Romania and with the children, so it's personal and they connect with what’s happening there.”
Popa says that their director will be joining Child Protective Services in Romania to assist the government with helping children cross the border from Ukraine without parents.
In the midst of hardship, Irina did not lose her hope.