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Russian native describes helping Ukrainian refugees

Elena Balandina relates how her efforts helped her, perhaps more than the refugees she assisted during her nearly four weeks as a volunteer in Bucharest, Romania.

Elena Balandina

"Me going and helping people allowed me to see how they put their trust in me," said Elena. "That trust brought me healing."

She is one of the volunteers with an organization called, Project Peppa. It started online, as people donated and volunteered it grew as a grassroots effort to collect essential items and donations.

Elena joined up for a trip that started in May.

"Part of the reason why I went there is because I felt a bit of helplessness in my own story with it."

Part of that story, is her background. A native of Russia, she came to the United States in 1996 as a graduate student and later married and sought and received citizenship.

"If I had to guess you know the percentage of people that used to be in my life that support Putin… it's close to 90," she said.

Elena opposes the war, "I had to cut ties with some of them because speaking to them or talking about it, just leads nowhere."


She remains amazed that they buy what seems largely propaganda. In Russia and the former Soviet Union, there remains a strong narrative of the resilience of the people after the Germans invaded in World War II.

"The country that went through the Second World War now came to another country and attacked it in a very similar type of fashion."

It seems so ironic.

Her experiences with Ukrainian refugees were largely positive.

"We had a lot of kindness toward us. We had a lot of well wishes," she explained. Referring to the United States, they would ask, "How come you came from all the way from over there?"

Many of the refugees she greeted at the airport and train station in Bucharest had little or nothing. Sometimes they lacked paperwork.

"Sometimes they are injured. Sometimes they have no means, you know, no money."

Elena Balandina

They would offer water, tea, food, essential items and conversation.

"They're going to have a lot of trouble even with the resources available to in adjusting," noted Elena. "Majority of people want to go back so bad. If they had a choice, they would be back there."

They helped hundreds and may have made a great difference. Elena now believes people in her new home country need to learn as well what they are going through.

"We as Americans take so many things for granted. It's unbelievable."

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