Delta Junction’s Slavic community, reeling over Ukraine war, launches relief effort

A home with a Garage Sale sign outside with a Ukranian flag
The Word of Life church near Delta Junction is holding a weeklong garage sale/bake sale to raise money to help the people of Ukraine. (Tim Ellis/KUAC)

Victoria Shestopalov began worrying about loved ones in Ukraine a few weeks ago, when the Russian military was conducting large training exercises near the Ukrainian border. When she called to check in, she said, they reassured her all was well.

“We have family in Kharkiv, and then we have family in Kyiv, and then spread out in small villages as well,” she said. “And they said, ‘It will be OK, everything’s going to be OK. No one’s panicking.’”

But when Russian President Vladimir Putin sent tanks into Ukraine a couple of weeks ago, Shestopalov said her worst fears had come to pass.

“And then,” she said, “just all of a sudden, it kind of just happened. And, yeah, we were all very crushed with the news.”

Since then, Shestopalov said she and many other members of Delta Junction’s Slavic community have been trying to monitor the situation in Ukraine and keep in touch with those who are still there.

“It really breaks our heart,” she said. “It’s really touched us. I didn’t realize that I would feel this way. It’s just happening — in the 21st century. It’s just unbelievable.”

A family photo of a daughter with her parents at a table
Vicky Shestopalov with her mother, Sirje, and father, Paul. (Courtesy of Vicky Shestopalov)

Shestopalov’s family was among the first in a wave of refugees that began arriving in Delta Junction in the 1990s. They came from Russia and Ukraine and other nations in the former Soviet Union’s orbit, many looking for a place where they’d be free to worship according to their conscience.

The Slavic community here now constitutes about a fifth of the area’s population. And Shestopalov says they’re united against the war in Ukraine.

“I know the Russian people don’t want this war to be happening,” she said. “Our friends from Russia are reaching out — actually, all over Europe. Nobody wants this to be happening.”

Shestopalov’s dad is Ukrainian. Her mom was born in Finland but moved to Estonia, where Shestopalov was born. And her husband is Russian. She says some members of her family are now wondering whether their country will be the next to be attacked.

“I spoke to my cousin in Finland, which is right there. She said Finland is on pins and needles. They are prepared. They are ready to act,” she said.

Delta Junction’s Slavic community also is ready to act, said Diana Gelever. Her family is one of those that came to Delta Junction from Ukraine back in the 1990s.

A portrait of a woman in a house
Diana Gelever is helping her church, The Word of Life, raise money to help people in Ukraine. (Courtesy of Diana Gelever)

“A couple of the ladies in our church have been reaching out to family in Ukraine,” said Gelever, a member of the Word of Life Church in Delta Junction.

And she said the responses that fellow congregants have been getting from family members in the old country are heartbreaking.

“There are people just hiding in bunkers and underground, in the subway and stuff,” she said. “And there are children down there, others, pregnant women, some men here and there, as well. And they’ve just been reaching out, (saying) that they have nothing. And they’re scared.”

To relieve the suffering, the Slavic community has been sending donations directly to family and friends in Ukraine and neighboring countries. And Gelever says members of the church have launched a weeklong garage sale and bake sale to raise money for the cause.

“They’re baking as many goods that they can,” she said. “They’re trying to sell as much as they can as fast as they can to get the money out there as soon as possible to help those who need it.”

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Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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