Thirty-two years ago, Connie and Gerald Oliver visited Ukraine for the very first time. Now, they are appealing to the local community to help them support the country’s civilians as they face war with Russia.
The Olivers had been part of the International Development Institute (IDI) for many years before visiting Ukraine. Based in Acampo, IDI provides aid to disadvantaged countries affected by poverty, drug abuse or alcohol abuse. Under this rehabilitation program, people from the local church that the Olivers belong to have been donating time, money and tangible items to Ukraine.
So, when Connie and Gerald got the opportunity to meet the people affected most by their care, they couldn’t say no. Ever since that trip, Connie and Gerald have devoted all their effort to helping Ukraine, now more than ever.
In February, Russia invaded Ukraine, demolishing many Ukrainians’ resources and homes. In fact, when Russia pulled out of the area around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Ukraine was left completely “impoverished.” The most striking aspect of the war, according to the couple, was the fact that grandmothers and grandfathers had to jump off balconies for food, the damage to their buildings making outside access difficult.
“People are running,” Connie Oliver emphasized. The fight for survival was real and still is in Ukraine. The war has affected millions of Ukrainians, but most of all the elderly.
Immediately after the outbreak of war, the Olivers scrambled to contribute any assistance they could to the country, known for its wheat fields and blue sky. They started to send out personal refugee kits inside small backpacks, on behalf of IDI. Each backpack includes hygiene products, food, a facemask and adult diapers, among other items.
The adult diapers are a major necessity, as many senior citizens need basic personal care items. More than 600 backpacks have been sent over already with another 600 expected to be delivered.
For the past few months, a typical day for the Olivers has started off with packing kits. They continue to pack kits till they have rows of boxes filled with backpacks. With the boxes ready to go, they take them over to a distribution facility in Sacramento, and their backpacks are sent overseas.
Funding this expensive project is not easy. Most of the costs come straight out of the Olivers’ pockets, and their bank account is starting to run low. The public has contributed to the effort; 2,100 pairs of socks were donated to the relief program, along with a donation of cloth bags.
Despite the help, the Olivers buy most items through Amazon and ship them at their own expense. The couple told the Herald that they need donations of money and goods to carry on with the effort.
“If your mother was starving to death, would you want us to help?” Gerald Oliver stated. Thousands of people are “starving to death.” He said Ukraine doesn’t have the resources to help its people and can’t afford to enlist each man into the Ukrainian army. For that reason, he said, the public should want to help Ukraine.
Ukraine recently received a water sterilization system from the institute. When Russia bombed water wells, the rivers became “horribly contaminated,” according to the Olivers. The sterilization system helped bring clean, fresh water to Ukrainians, becoming one positive result of the generous amounts of aid.
The Olivers hope to one day see an end to this war. They want people to stop needing them for help because they are safe and on their feet again. Nevertheless, the couple will continue to ship water sterilization systems. Whenever Ukraine needs help, they are sure to be there.
Those interested in providing supplies for the refugee kits can contact Gerald Oliver at 209-712-2842.