When the fighting first erupted in Ukraine, it hit Bonnie Hilton’s heart pretty deeply. That’s because nearly 20 years ago, she and her husband Brett adopted two girls from Ukraine. Their experience forever changed their lives. They have since returned to Ukraine and kept in touch with people there.
When war hit, Bonnie yearned to go back—to help the country where her daughters came from. So that’s what she did.
It helped that she had already been passionate about helping rescue children in need. Bonnie and Brett had co-founded nonprofit DELIVEЯ, which helps at-risk children find hope. With their team, they work with orphans around the world to find their forever families, facilitate adoption through foster care, rescue children from human trafficking, release them from refugee camps, and anything else they can do to help. Bonnie also works for Hand In Hand International Adoption, which works with orphanages in Ukraine.
Filling the Gaps
For this trip, Bonnie and Brett wanted to make a strong impact in Ukraine, so they connected with locals. They spoke with a branch president of a congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who was able to offer insight. This small branch just across the border in Poland of normally 20 people had ballooned to 80 due to an influx of refugees.
“Their needs change all the time, but there are already organizations at the Ukraine-Poland border offering temporary shelter as well as food and medicine and even rain ponchos. What the people really needed was transportation from the border to where they were going next,” explains Bonnie.
So that’s where DELIVEЯ focused its efforts for two weeks. The team arrived in Poland and got to work immediately at the Ukraine-Poland border.
“We rented a nine-person passenger van and helped as many people as we could,” Bonnie explains.
As part of their team, they brought along Lena Contor, a dear friend who they met back when they adopted their daughters and was instrumental in transporting locals.
“She’s Ukrainian but married an American and lives in Idaho,” Bonnie says. “She was a great blessing because she could translate for us. A friend of Lena’s, Jocelyn Harris, joined us. She had served a mission in Ukraine and could speak Russian.”
While many at the Ukraine-Poland border were anxious to get in a vehicle advertising a free ride somewhere, the government had informed the people to be cautious. Unfortunately, human traffickers had already been taking advantage of women and children fleeing their country.
“The people were told to be careful. Thankfully, Lena and Jocelyn could explain that our motives were good,” Bonnie says.
Displaced Women and Children
At the border, refugees stood in long lines waiting to be processed so they would be allowed to leave Ukraine. A majority of the refugees are women and children as the men are either required to stay and fight or want to stay and fight. According to UNICEF, by March 24 or one month into the war, half of the children of the country—about 4.3 million—had been displaced.
Where are the refugees headed? Some have headed west to safer areas of Ukraine. But as Bonnie and her team saw, many cross into Poland to stay somewhere in that country, or pass through Poland on their way to another country. Some refugees go to stay with relatives, and others hope to find housing to start their new lives.
While some have a plan for a final destination, others act on faith and hope they get somewhere safe.
The DELIVEЯ team helped transport many families who were headed to a relative’s residence in Poland, and others needed an overnight stay at a hotel and transportation to a bus station the next day. Thanks to generous donations, Bonnie and her team were able to provide that for many. They wanted to fill the gaps for these women and children as much as possible.
“Many of them were carrying their belongings in plastic bags, so we bought suitcases for them,” Bonnie says. “It was like Christmastime when we gave them to them.”
One particular family had come from Odessa, Ukraine, after the bombing started and hoped to make their way to Germany.
“Even though their hearts were heavy, their hugs warmed me all the way through and their smiles were full of light,” Bonnie explains.
A Fresh Start
Since the majority of refugees DELIVEЯ transported were women and children, and they were going to a new place, they needed to figure out how to live until they could find employment. Thanks to donations from families in the United States through its “Family to Family” program, DELIVEЯ was able to provide a fresh start in a new residence.
“We matched families from Ukraine with families from the United States. We got them on FaceTime to introduce them, then assess their needs and help them get on their feet,” she explains.
Reflecting on the trip, Bonnie can’t help but think about how thankful the Ukrainian people were.
“People from all over the world had traveled there to help them. They were so appreciative that people were supporting and encouraging them. Their embraces just showed how heartfelt they were.”
Anyone interested in donating to help DELIVEЯ with its many projects can visit its donation page for more information. To donate specifically to the Ukrainian Refugee “Family to Family” Project, send money via Venmo @DeliverProjects.
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