When even a pillow is precious

A shipping container filled with 24,000 pounds of food and supplies collected as part of project organized by Port ministers arrives in war-torn country at last

THOUSANDS OF POUNDS of donated food, hygiene items and other supplies were packed up and sent to Ukraine in June as part of a relief effort organized by Paul and Christine Pierquet, ministers at Portview Church in Port Washington (file photo at left). That aid arrived in Ukraine last month and is being distributed to those in need. Pastor Benjamin Kovalenko (right in photo at right) took several vans of supplies to Izyum, which is near the fighting, giving residents there everything from food to blankets as winter starts to take hold.
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

A pillow was given to a man who had been sleeping in a church after his home was destroyed in the war in Ukraine — a simple gesture, but one emblematic of the efforts of area residents to help those in need in a country few have visited.

“He had nowhere to go,” Paul Pierquet said of that first aid recipient.

That scene has been repeated over and over as supplies collected through the Wisco-Ukraine Project organized by Pierquet and his wife Christine this summer reached their destination in recent weeks.

“It’s, to me, emotional,” Pierquet said of watching videos and seeing pictures of the items being distributed.

He feels a sense of joy in seeing faces of those who are getting much needed help, he said, but he also feels sadness.

That’s because he and his wife, who are the family life pastors at Portview Church in the Town of Port Washington, lived in Ukraine for 16 years before returning to the United States last fall — just months before Russia invaded Ukraine.

“It’s just weird, seeing so many things bombed out,” Pierquet said. “It’s kind of jarring.”

The Wisco-Ukraine Project sent roughly 24,000 pounds of food and supplies, enough to fill a shipping container, to Ukraine in July.

There was a little delay getting the container into the port in Gdayna, Poland, Pierquet said, because so many shipping containers were coming in destined for Ukraine.

By late August, their shipping container was in port and by mid-September it was unloaded. The items were then trucked into Ukraine — a lengthy journey made even longer by the lines of trucks headed into the country.

“Our truck driver had to essentially sleep in his truck for 36 hours” as he navigated the lines,” Pierquet said.

The truck made its way to Cherkasy in central Ukraine, where Pastor Benjamin Kovalenko — a friend of the Pierquets —had a storage facility ready for it.

After a few days of organizing and cataloging the items, they were separated and individual food and hygiene bags created for distribution.

Most are being given to internally displaced individuals, people whose homes have been destroyed by the war.

More than 12 million Ukrainians are either refugees or internally displaced, Pierquet said.

“It’s a crazy number when you think about it,” he said, noting the number is larger than the number of refugees and internally displaced people during World War II.

Traveling throughout Ukraine to distribute the aid isn’t easy, Pierquet noted. It used to take four hours to travel from Cherkasy  to Kyiv, but now it takes 10 to 12 hours.

And it’s a war zone, so travel is dangerous.

The first large distribution of relief items, two pallets each of hygiene bags and Manna Rice, a protein-fortified rice meal that contains all the nutrients needed in a day, went to Smila in southern Ukraine, near Odessa, Pierquet said.

Other trucks headed to Kyiv, where a church founded by the Pierquets is located, and areas in northern Ukraine, such as Kolentsi for distribution by Pastor Maksim and Timothy, two other family friends.

“All the homes there have basically been demolished,” Pierquet said, noting that area was in the path of Russia’s initial invasion.

Pierquet said he was most nervous when he heard that Pastor Benjamin was taking several vans filled with supplies into Izyum in the Khakiv region in eastern Ukraine, an area that Russia took over but Ukraine has since regained.

It’s an area left with no electricity, an area where a mass grave with 436 bodies has been discovered.

“I was very nervous about it,” he said. “When he told me he was leaving for Izyum, I started praying. They got in and out as quickly as possible.

“But the need was probably greatest there. Everything’s gone.”

The efforts of the people distributing aid in Ukraine can’t be understated, Pierquet said.

“I’m thankful for people like Benjamin, who could leave,” he said, noting the pastor’s wife and four sons are in Poland. “He can leave, but he said, ‘This is my time.’ For him to sacrifice his life like that is scary.”

It will take time to distribute everything that was donated, Pierquet said.

“You can only do it one truck at a time,” he said.

Pierquet said he also feels a sense of gratitude for the many people who contributed to the relief effort.

“We had so many people participate in so many diverse ways,” he said, from students at Marquette University’s school of dentistry who donated toothbrushes and toothpaste to people who dropped off diapers and canned goods.

“I was a little skeptical we could fill it.,” Pierquet admitted. “It’s very humbling. I’m very happy with the overwhelming response.”

He recalled days when “six or seven carloads of people we never met would pull in (to Portview Church) and pop their trunks, which were loaded with donations.”

He noted that they had expected to get a greater corporate response to the collection, but mused, “Maybe it was never meant to be about the corporate side.”

Although the relief effort is much needed, Pierquet said he and his wife realize it isn’t going to solve everything.

“We realize in the long run this is a drip in a bucket, but it’s something we could do,” he said. “If everybody sees a need and steps into it, that’s how the Kingdom works.”

 

 

 

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