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‘It’s just unbelievable’: Delta’s Slavic community, reeling over Ukraine war, launches relief effort

Tim Ellis / KUAC
The Word of Life church near Delta Junction is holding a weeklong garage sale/bake sale to raise money to help the people of Ukraine.

Members of the Slavic community in Delta Junction are feeling the pain of family and friends in Ukraine who are suffering under the Russian invasion. And as KUAC’s Tim Ellis reports, the locals are raising money to help those under siege there.

Vicky Shestopalov
Vicky Shestopalov and her mom, Sirje, and dad, Paul.

Victoria Shestopalov says she began worrying about loved ones in Ukraine a few weeks ago, when the Russian military was conducting large training exercises near the Ukrainian border. She says when she called to check in, they reassured her all was well.

“We have family in Kharkiv, and then we have family in Kiev, and then spread out in small villages as well,” she said. “And they said, ‘It will be OK, everything’s going to be OK. No one’s panicking.’”

But when Russian President Vladimir Putin lit up his artillery and sent his tanks charging into Ukraine a couple of weeks ago, Shestopalov says her worst fears had come to pass.

Vicky Shestopoval
Vicky Shestopoval and her husband, James.

“And then,” she said, “just all of a sudden, it kind of just happened. And, yeah, we were all very crushed with the news.”

Since then, Shestopalov says she and many other members of Delta’s Slavic community have been trying to monitor the situation in Ukraine and keep in touch with those who are still there.

“It really breaks our heart,” she said. “It’s really touched us. I didn’t realize that I would feel this way. It’s just happening – in the 21st century. It’s just unbelievable.”

Shestopalov’s family was among the first in a wave of refugees that began arriving in Delta in the 1990s. They came from Russia and Ukraine and other nations in the former Soviet Union’s orbit, all looking for a place where they’d be free to worship, according to their conscience. The Slavic community here now constitutes about a fifth of the area’s population. And Shestopalov says they’re united against the war in Ukraine.

Diana Gelever
Diana Gelever is helping her church, The Word of Life, raise money to help people in Ukraine.

“I know the Russian people don’t this war to be happening,” she said. “Our friends from Russia are reaching out – actually, all over Europe. Nobody wants this to be happening.”

Shestopalov should know. Her dad is Ukrainian, and her mom was born in Finland, but moved to Estonia, where Shestopalov was born. And her husband is Russian. She says some members of her family are now wondering whether their country will be the next to be attacked.

“I spoke to my cousin in Finland, which is right there. She said Finland is on pins and needles. They are prepared. They are ready to act.”

Delta’s Slavic community also is ready to act, says Diana Gelever. Her family is one of those that came to Delta from Ukraine back in the ’90s.

“A couple of the ladies in our church have been reaching out to family in Ukraine,” said Gelever, a member of the Word of Life Church in Delta. And she says the responses that fellow congregants have been getting from family members in the old country are heart-breaking.

Diana Gelever
The Word of Life fundraiser for Ukraine continues through Saturday at the church, 3206 Clearwater Road.

“There are people just hiding in bunkers and underground, in the subway and stuff,” she said. “And there are children down there, others, pregnant women, some men here and there, as well. And they’ve just been reaching out, (saying) that they have nothing. And they’re scared.”

To relieve the suffering, the Slavic community has been sending donations directly to family and friends in Ukraine and neighboring countries. And Gelever says members of the church have launched a weeklong garage sale and bake sale to raise money for the cause.

“And they’re just taking donations of stuff, and they’re baking as many goods that they can and they’re trying to sell as much as they can as fast as they can to get the money out there as soon as possible to help those who need it.”

The Word of Life church also is accepting donations directly from the public. You can find contact information about the fund-raiser by going to its Facebook page.