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Claremonter needs help supporting Ukrainian refugees – podcast

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

It seems to be the typical Claremonter response to pitch in every time there’s a crisis. When January’s Santa Ana winds blew through the city, residents came together to support one another and clean up tree branch littered neighborhoods.

In similar fashion, last month when Russian tanks entered Ukraine and a 40-mile-long convoy followed, one Claremonter began formulating how she could support her Ukrainian neighbors 6,200 miles away.

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“The first week of the war I was so … how could you not cry,” Claremont resident Cynthia Cross said, who is an English as a second language (ESL) and English instructor at Citrus College. “Then I decided, ‘Okay, I’m going to try and do something.’”

At first, Cross donated to various organizations including Rescue.org, UNICEF global, and even to Chef Jose Andre’s group, the World Central Kitchen to aid the fleeing refugees. After she donated once though, she began to wonder what was next.

“I did it once, now what?” Cross said. After days of watching what was taking place on the other side of the Pacific, Cross said someone put an idea in her head.

The idea was to go on AirBnB.com, an online booking company which lets independent property owners rent out their spaces to travelers, and rent rooms to support Ukrainian property owners.

Cross paid the fees to rent a room for a day, which went to the property owner’s linked bank account after the stay. It was like renting a hotel room, missing the booked stay after paying, and, deliberately, not seeking a refund since the fees went directly to the Ukrainian citizen.

In early March, Cross said she rented three rooms in the capital city of Kyiv because the Russian convoy seemed closest to it. After researching the area then renting, she contacted the property’s owner, Dmitry Volkov, and the two formed a virtual pen pal relationship.

She learned that her reservations supported Volkov and his family, including his wife Katya and their two sons, 15-year-old Ivan and 8-year-old Timothy. Cross also learned exactly what it was like to be in the country in the early days of the war.

Displaced from their home, Volkov and his family lived in a small air raid bunker and endured numerous bombing threats while living in Kyiv. Volkov told Cross that Ukrainian and Russian planes flew overhead throughout the nights and since the family couldn’t tell whether they were friendly or enemy, all four ended up losing sleep to stay vigilant.

When Cross read that passage, that’s when she went all in on the AirBnB cause.

“My first goal was to sponsor them for three days, and then as we got to talking, I changed my goal to ten days,” Cross said. Some of her friends and family have also supported her efforts on the part of Volkovs. As of press time Wednesday, at least three of Volkov’s properties have been rented out until the middle of April. With help, Cross has raised about $1,250 in support of Volkov and his family.

Last week Volkov’s wife and children reached Romania as part a convoy of fleeing Ukrainian refugees. Cross shared her congratulations, and the father who remained in Kyiv, talked about how he hoped his family could reach Spain, which they recently did.

Volkov did not talk about himself in the future tense though, and shared with Cross that he truly didn’t know how much longer he’d live.

At the start of the war, the Ukrainian government imposed martial law, requiring men ages 18 to 60 to enlist. Forced to say goodbye to his family, Volkov stayed behind in Kyiv to fend off the invading Russian attackers.

Last week, Volkov and the remaining citizens in Kyiv were forced to evacuate as bombings and Russian troops descended upon the capital.

“Literally his words were … it was not for the weak,” Cross was told about the evacuation efforts.

Volkov escaped and drove nine hours to stay with a friend who lived on the outskirts of Lviv. All seemed calm as the fighting hadn’t reached the western part of the country yet. But on Sunday, 35 people were killed in an airstrike near the Yavoriv training base, about 30 kilometers northwest of Lviv.

While Volkov survived and continues to serve his country, he told Cross that in Ukraine, “no place was safe.” Cross and Volkov continue to speak regularly despite Volkov’s service and dangerous reality.

The situation in Ukraine is desperate said Cross, who believes many in the U.S. are either oblivious to what’s happening or sweeping it under the rug.

“If we could find a way to help, it would relieve me because I’m in[vested] now. I will do anything I can for their family,” Cross said.

Since AirBnB is one of the only fail-safe ways to directly send money to Volkov’s bank account, Cross recently set up a GoFundMe page to which the Claremont community can donate. The goal is to raise $5,000, which Cross will use to reserve additional rooms at Volkov’s AirBnB properties.

The father not only supports his family with the money Cross and others have given him through AirBnB, he also supports his mother and friends. While Volkov is still stationed in Ukraine, his family is living in a small town in Spain called Benidorm. Rent is only covered until April 7 and is approximately $1,000 per month, well above the refugee family’s income.

To donate to Cross’s GoFundMe campaign, which had raised $575 as of Wednesday evening,  visit gofundme.com/f/please-help-this-ukrainian-family?utm_campaign=p_lico+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer.

“The kindness of strangers matters. We can make a difference,” Cross said in an email.

 

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