Bay Area nonprofit collects holiday stockings filled with warm clothes for Ukraine

"Roots of Peace is designing a Ukrainian Christmas stocking. The stocking represents the limbs people have lost in the war."

ByKarina Nova and Juan Carlos Guerrero KGO logo
Sunday, December 25, 2022
Bay Area group collects holiday stockings, warm clothes for Ukraine
Roots of Peace is collecting warm clothes and energy bars to give to Ukrainians injured during the war.

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (KGO) -- Ukrainians will celebrate their first Christmas since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022.

The celebrations are expected to be more subdued this year as the casualties mount.

The United States government estimates about 40,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed or wounded in the war.

Natasha Stepanenko, 43, is one of the wounded.

Stepanenko lost her left leg during a missile attack while she waited at a train station in Kramatorsk, hoping to evacuate with her family to Kyiv.

Her daughter, Yana, lost both legs in the explosion.

"She was laying on top of her dead grandmother, crawling away from her," said Stepanenko, who is now in San Diego with her 11-year-old daughter where they are undergoing rehabilitation.

They have both gotten prosthetic legs.

MORE: Bay Area nonprofit, winemaker turning Ukraine's minefields into vineyards

Ivan Chaban is also undergoing receiving treatment in San Diego. He lost a leg when a Russian tank ran him over as he was walking with his family from one town to another to get food.

"I felt as if I was swept away, then darkness fell over my eyes and I fell to the ground unconscious," recalled Ivan.

Earlier this month, Heidi Kuhn met with several Ukrainian amputees in San Diego to look for ways to help.

Kuhn runs Roots of Peace, a humanitarian group that removes mines from war torn regions and converts the land to agricultural fields.

The organization launched a holiday fundraising campaign around the tradition of Christmas stockings.

"Roots of Peace is designing a Ukrainian Christmas stocking. The stocking represents the limbs people have lost in the war," explained Kuhn.

VIDEO: Ukrainians brace for wintery-weather blasts amid missile strikes

Eight months in and the war in Ukraine is intensifying. Russian missiles haven taken out parts of the power grid and leaving millions in the dark.

Kuhn wants Ukrainian refugees to help design the stockings with the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

The stockings will be filled with items many Ukrainians need to get through the harsh winter, items like blankets, gloves and thermal socks. Portable food like energy bars are also needed.

"It would be a beautiful reminder for any family to think of the children and their moms. The families that are suffering right now in a dark, terrible war. They don't know if they will live one more day," said Nataliya Chung, a Ukrainian immigrant who is helping to translate for the refugees in San Diego.

The war has already changed Christmas in Ukraine. Traditionally, Ukraine celebrates two Christmases.

The Catholic Christmas is marked on December 25 while the Orthodox Christmas is held on January 7.

But this year, the Orthodox church of Ukraine decided to celebrate Christmas on December 25 to distance itself from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Yana Stepanenko just has one message for Ukrainian children this holiday season.

"To be brave," she said, and then also wished them a merry Christmas.

To donate to the holiday stockings fundraiser for Ukraine, visit the Roots of Peace website.

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