Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, expressed sympathy for a family with two children who fled fighting in eastern Ukraine, and she thanked ADRA for assisting the family and many other people displaced by the violence.
Biden visited a shelter at ADRA’s office in Kiev on Friday as her husband held talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on measures to deal with the country’s sputtering economy.
Ukraine faces a grim winter after seven months of conflict between independence-minded separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine. The violence has killed more than 4,300 people and caused more than 460,000 to flee to other parts of Ukraine and across the border to Russia, according to the United Nations.
After meeting with the displaced Ukrainian family, Biden thanked ADRA and its partners, U.S. government agency USAID and the United Nations Development Program, for their work in Ukraine.
"My heart is broken after this meeting,” she said, according to a Ukrainan translation of her remarks provided by the Adventist Church’s Ukrainian Union Conference.
“Many displaced people do not even have temporary housing. In a situation where winter is approaching, this tragedy could turn into a crisis if we do not act together,” Biden said. “Governments and civil society, Ukrainians and their friends from all over the world must act as a team, as one humanitarian mission. "
Biden asked the displaced family—Oleg and Svetlana, and their two children, Katerina, 13, and Andrei, 12—about their lives in Donetsk and how they have coped since they fled, according to an account of the visit provided by Viktor Alyeksyeyenko, president of the Ukrainian Union Conference.
Svetlana said she had held two jobs in Donetsk, teaching psychology at Donetsk National Technical University and offering music classes to gifted children at a college. Oleg said he held a degree in classical music, like his wife, but had worked in the furniture business.
Both Svetlana and Oleg thanked the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which operates ADRA, for helping them resettle in Kiev, and they said they were getting back on their feet with church members’ help.
These days, Svetlana teaches private music lessons and Oleg is back in the furniture business. The couple regularly organizes music concerts to raise money for other people who have fled eastern Ukraine.
Jonathan Duffy, the visiting president of ADRA International, told Biden that he was struck by the willingness of ordinary Ukrainians to help one another. But he said their needs far outweighed their resources.
“Unfortunately, the agency still has a lot of work in Ukraine," he said.
Offering financial support, a senior USAID official, E. Jed Barton, announced at the ADRA office that his agency would contribute $3 million to the United Nations’ World Food Program to assist an estimated 120,000 displaced people in Ukraine.
Vladimir Tkachuk, ADRA director for the church’s Euro-Asia Division, which includes Ukraine, said Biden’s visit placed a welcome spotlight on ADRA that should help it step up its efforts.
“This kind of meeting is very important to everyone,” Tkachuk said in an interview. “ADRA’s Ukraine office showed that it is a serious organization capable of doing its job well. ADRA International had the opportunity to showcase the advantages of having a united, international family. But the most important thing is that many people who have fallen on difficult times are receiving and will receive help.”
In recent months, ADRA, the Adventist Church, and the church’s Hope Channel have collected and distributed 200 tons of humanitarian aid under a charity project called Eastern Angel. The project also has gathered about 505,000 Ukrainian hryvnia (about $35,000) in financial assistance for displaced people.
ADRA currently hosts five families at its Kiev shelter but has room for up to 20. Over the past six months, it has sheltered about 400 families for periods of one day to four months.
Guillermo Biaggi, president of the Euro-Asia Division, thanked donors who have supported ADRA and said he and other church leaders were praying for ADRA and Ukraine.
“We pray for God to provide peace in eastern Ukraine and to give wisdom to the authorities of all the countries involved,” Biaggi said by e-mail. “We also pray for the ADRA project."
He added: “We are grateful to the generous and supportive donors who have joined ADRA in helping the internally displaced people from this area. In this way, we are following Christ's wonderful promise in Matt. 25:40: ‘And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’”