Kerri Murray talks to the News-Press about Ukrainians’ resilience in the face of war
Editor’s note: This is the second part of a News-Press series about efforts to help Ukraine as the second year of the Russian invasion begins.
Kerri Murray experienced air raids during her recent visit to Ukraine.
And she was in the emergency shelters during those raids anywhere from 40 minutes to two hours or more at a time.
“I felt the fear and the terror they (the Ukrainians) went through,” said Ms. Murray, the president of Santa Barbara-based ShelterBox USA.
“It was difficult to sleep most of the time I was there. You just don’t know where the next air raid siren is going off,” Ms. Murray told the News-Press Wednesday by phone from Krakow, Poland, after her second visit to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began a little over one year ago.
“One year later, we don’t see an end in sight,” said Ms. Murray, who arrived in Ukraine on Feb. 17. “We’ve seen tens of thousands of deaths.”
“You have this constant threat of missile attacks all the time, bringing a state of fear and terror,” Ms. Murray said.
She said she experienced her first air raid during this visit just 30 minutes after crossing into the Ukrainian border. “The second time was by the time we reached Lviv. There were several air raids every day in Kyiv.”
ShelterBox USA’s photos tell the story of houses and tall apartment buildings devastated by Russian missiles during the worst conflict in Europe since World War II.
Against that backdrop, ShelterBox International and ShelterBox USA remain determined, along with organizations such as Goleta-based Direct Relief, to help.
Ms. Murray went to the war-torn country to talk to the Ukrainians about their needs during the freezing, unforgiving winter.
ShelterBox normally provides tent-like temporary shelters to areas hit by disasters and wars, such as Syria, but Ms. Murray explained the Ukrainians need something different: ways to repair their homes and to survive the winter as Russia launches attacks on Ukraine’s power infrastructure, causing outages.
The Ukrainians are struggling to stay warm.
“We have people who don’t have access to heat, who don’t have access to running water,” Ms. Murray said.
She said ShelterBox USA is helping by providing thermal blankets, stoves, carriers to store clean water, solar-powered lanterns, winter clothing and hygiene kits.
Ms. Murray said ShelterBox USA is also providing tools to repair roofs and tarps to cover holes in the roof or tarp to replace destroyed windows — anything to keep out the cold.
“We’ve reached 37,000 people already,” she said, adding ShelterBox USA hopes to aid an additional 30,000 Ukrainians this year.
ShelterBox USA has spent millions of dollars to help the Ukrainians.
“We know the need is massive,” she said.
“You have over 40%, nearly 50% of the population who need humanitarian assistance,” Ms. Murray said. “Many people have not returned home. If they have returned home, there’s nothing left of their homes.”
During her visit to Ukraine, Ms. Murray stopped in several communities and talked to the residents.
“I went to this one village of a thousand people. Picture a place like Summerland — a small town, but there’s no sea,” Ms. Murray said. “Eight-five percent of the homes were bombed.”
“A woman in her late 70s told me how she hid behind a cement wall in an adjacent property (to her home),” Ms. Murray said. “The wall was being shot; there were tons of holes in the cement. She hid behind it, and she survived. Her neighbor didn’t make it.”
“It’s awful,” Ms. Murray said. “People are really struggling to survive in a war that was no fault of their own.”
“What I heard from families is that a year later, they’re tired,” Ms. Murray said. “They want to go home. They want the war to be over. They just want peace.”
But Ms. Murray noted she witnessed a great sense of resilience among the Ukrainians.
She visited a community where she met a family — a husband, wife and their 19-year-old daughter — who had to leave their home in what’s now Russian-occupied Ukraine.
“They were told by the Ukrainian army that they had 15 minutes to leave” to escape before the Russian attacks, Ms. Murray said. “They went to a shelter in this city and lived with 60 people in a basement with one heater. And it was freezing.”
The family doesn’t know anything about the condition of the home they were forced to abandon, but the father found a reason to smile when he talked with Ms. Murray.
“We were chatting through a translator. He (the father) was pleased to be there and to get the aid,” said Ms. Murray, who handed him a portable stove from ShelterBox USA.
“He hugged me,” she said. “He had a huge smile. I did not see many smiles in Ukraine, but he had this massive smile. He said, ‘Super!’ He was so excited.
“The translator said he wanted me to know he was really, really pleased,” Ms. Murray said.
“He’s moved out of this 60-person shelter and is now in a tiny apartment with his family, and they now have a heater,” Ms. Murray said. “Their daughter is going to a medical college, taking classes online.”
That was one example of the resilience of the Ukrainians.
“Despite all the deadly danger, despite the power cuts, despite this awful winter, despite the horrors of war,” Ms. Murray said, “they’re resilient.”