Last month, my wife Hanna and I moved to a city called Ivano Frankivsk in western Ukraine after working with Novi for the previous two years. I am now working with our Ukraine team, monitoring and assessing our programs here.

Before we moved, a lot of people were concerned for our safety. “Isn’t it dangerous?” They asked, worried about the bombing, the potential success of Russia’s invasion, and the fall of Ukraine. “What if Putin drops a nuke?” they asked. These concerns are valid and need discussion. 

Living in Ukraine is different from other places I’ve lived. We hear air raid sirens echo through the hallways of our apartment building several times a week, and we recently wrote a detailed plan of action in case of a nuclear attack or disaster. Not far from where we live, disturbing sirens and loss of sleep are the least of their problems. They are experiencing daily shellings and explosions shaking their windows, their children not being able to go to school because it would become a target, nutritious food often just a memory as they live on white rice and pasta noodles provided by aid organizations.

Living in Ukraine isn't safe

Living in Ukraine isn’t “safe” by most people’s definition of that word, but that is precisely why we moved here. Because if it isn’t safe for us as adults, then it certainly isn’t “safe” for the over 7 million children still living here being traumatized by this brutal and prolonged war. 

Those concerned about our safety seemed less worried about these children. This raised the question: why? Perhaps distance and language barriers make it hard to see these children as real. Or maybe they perceive them as different, built to endure such circumstances.
My wife and I disagree. We've met these children; they're no different from those in the West. They care about presents at Christmas time, eat too much sugar if they get the chance, get very scared during air raids, and deserve love and safety.

We decided to be here and work alongside thousands of other amazing Ukrainian people to help the children of Ukraine survive this war and not only survive it but do so in a mental state that sets them up to be the people, parents, and leaders this world so desperately needs. Nelson Mandela said, “The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow,” and we believe that investing in the mental health of the children surviving this war is crucial, and we are grateful that we are not alone in this resolve. 

A community around the world cares

We bring with us the voices of our community. When I speak with the families we support who have lost their homes, their livelihoods, and even family members, I don’t just tell them that I will pray for them. I tell them that hundreds of us from all over the world have come together and formed a community around the idea that they matter, are important, and are not forgotten.

In many ways, life here in Ukraine is similar to life in Michigan. It feels like we always need to do laundry and grocery shopping, and something around the apartment always needs fixing, but at the same time, it feels different. We woke up Christmas morning, along with all the children living in Ukraine, to an air raid alarm and news of rockets, texting our loved ones to make sure they were safe and hoped that they would write back soon. That’s how many of our mornings start here, and the nearly 40 million people living here report the same experience, but for families closer to the front lines, it is a more frequent and dangerous experience.

In essence, we're here on a mission:
Restoring Childhoods Disrupted by War. 
And we didn't come alone.

From Ivano Frankivsk,

Jon Peerbolt


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