LOWVILLE — A Lewis County couple and others are helping bring a Merry Christmas to war-torn Ukraine.
It is Jan. 7 by the Gregorian calendar used by most of the world since 1582, but for many Orthodox religions including those in Ukraine that follow the Julian calendar that preceded it, today is Dec. 25.
Because of the ongoing war against the Russian invasion that began almost 11 months ago, “merry” is likely to be a stretch for those living in areas of hard fighting and who have fled their homes and communities as refugees but the spirit that has seen Ukrainians through revolutions, world wars, Soviet Union control, a nuclear disaster and previous invasions is expected to prevail.
“If they attack us with Iranian drones and our people will have to go to bomb shelters on Christmas Eve, Ukrainians will still sit down at the holiday table and cheer up each other,“ said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in his speech to the U.S. Congress on Dec. 21.
Turin resident Bohdan G. Krop remembers his Ukrainian mother keeping Christmas traditions when he was young. He tried to do the same for her when she lived with he and his wife, Elizabeth J. Krop, a few years before her death in 2021.
“I remember mother would have bread dipped in honey to give to each child with a Christmas blessing,” he said, “There are other traditions we didn’t follow — Christmas caroling, going from house to house carrying a star — but my mother told us about those things.”
Although not everyone in Ukraine may have all 12 courses of the largely vegetarian meal with one fish course, no meat and a number unique to Ukraine dishes like kutia — a porridge of boiled wheat with poppy seeds and honey, various dumplings, stuffed cabbage called holubtsi and a stewed fruit drink called uzvar among others, the Krops were happy and relieved that the approximately $3,400 from fundraisers and contributions they sent to their partners in Rivne and Uzhhorod in December made it in time to help.
Early this week, they received pictures from their son-in-law’s brother of the groceries, gifts for children and Christmas treats purchased with the funds being delivered to vulnerable people in war-torn areas by Missions Without Borders in Rivne and Rudolph Balzhinec — the “guy” who knows how and where to get just about anything people need and delivers them — with the Family of Christ group in Uzhhorod Mr. Krop described as non-denominational.
“It was really great to see the fruits of our labor,” Mr. Krop said on Wednesday.
About $1,100 of that sent was raised by the Adirondack Community Chorus led by Peggy J. Nuspliger during their Christmas Concert on a snowy Dec. 11 through contributions from attendees, almost matching their first performance fundraising effort in April which totalled $1,300 the Krops sent to Ukraine.
The concert, themed “Around the World at Christmas,” featured a traditional Ukrainian folk carol sang after Mr. Krop gave a brief speech about the current situation in Ukraine.
Mr. Krop said that a Mennonite family that chooses a different cause to support every year donated more than $2,000 and a rummage sale fundraiser contributed the rest of what was sent.
“If people want to give money we’re more than happy to take it and get it where it needs to go, but we don’t ever ask for it,” Mr. Krop said. “So far, just showing people that there’s a need has been enough. There seems to be some kind of a unity of people that want to help this fledgling country survive and make it on its own. It has just been amazing.”
The humanitarian pipeline the Krops and their partners have created involves sending money to the partners who are located in the western region of the country near open borders with Hungary.
Mr. Krop said because Hungary is not involved in the war, shelves there are stocked, making the location for the local charities crucial to being able to give people what they need and can no longer get.
Part of the money is usually used for fuel for the vehicles to deliver the items where they are needed often hours away.
There is some risk for everyone involved in the process, but especially for the drivers, Mr. Bohdan said.
In August, Mr. Krop returned to Ukraine for the first time since 2009, when he and Mrs. Krop retired from their humanitarian aid efforts after Ukraine gained its independence from the former Soviet Union.
Mr. Krop’s first trip was in 1994. There would be about 27 others, most including his wife and some of their eight children, during those 15 years.
The February invasion, however, brought the Krops out of retirement and expanded their mission.
In addition to providing what funding and materials they can for the people of Ukraine, they have also been finding ways to support Ukrainian fighters.
The distribution from the latest funds included getting 100 first aid kits to them and in the August trip, Mr. Krop brought gun cleaning kits specially tooled for the weapons the fighters are most commonly using donated by Lewis County business Otis Technologies.
Although Mrs. Krop said she probably won’t be able to travel to Ukraine for missions anymore due to health limitations, she is still very active in finding support and building awareness.
Over the years, Mrs. Krop said she has “learned enough (Ukrainian) to get by if I need to,” but she would have liked to learn more.
“His mom would talk to me (in Ukrainian) and I begged him just to speak Ukrainian so we would learn it but he wouldn’t do it,” she said, acknowledging it would have been “hard work” for him and life was just too busy for it on some levels.
Mr. Krop’s mother and father — Josephine and Walter — Ukrainian Catholics that met in an Austrian refugee camp during World War II, married in 1947 and immigrated together to the U.S. in 1949.
Although he did not see the point at the time, Mr. Krop’s parents required him to attend Ukrainian school on Saturdays to learn the language and culture of his ancestry and Sunday School despite being a Catholic school student during the week.
“I learned Ukrainian before I knew English when I went to kindergarten,” he said. “I was sent to Ukrainian school every Saturday until I could rebel and refuse to go anymore.”
Now, however, the devout Christian sees God’s hand in those decisions because his bilingual fluency led him to his life’s purpose: supporting Ukrainians when they are confronted by diversity through a mix of communication, advocacy and action.
It all started through his translation skills when he was sought by church groups to help newly arriving Christian refugees fleeing religious persecution to communicate, starting in the late 1980s amidst the early stages of the Soviet Union’s collapse.
“It was exciting. I was there when we first picked them up at the airport and we brought them to their apartment,” he said, and continued as they learned to adjust to their new lives. “If someone only spoke Ukrainian it was very important to help them link up. I could help with that.”
Hearing the stories of impoverished people and the impacts of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster on nearby communities, the Krops began working with their church group to collect food, clothes, medicine and money to help before traveling with heavy suitcases themselves to get the items there.
In the past, anything shipped or mailed would not reach its destination. Although everything makes it there now, Mr. Krop said it can take months and the need is immediate so he rarely sends things over. Because the Krops have again been working with the people and organizations from 15 years ago, they know the cash is making it into hands that will deliver what is needed to those that need it.
“I think maybe this is just another way of spreading hope,” Mr. Krop said. “I’m not there, but there are others that know the Ukraine. They know the back roads, they know how to get around and they seem to have connections so if I can help them, they’re doing the job. So it’s sort of like NATO and America, how they realize that the Ukrainians are a valiant people who will give their last breaths for freedom.”
To donate, contact Bo Krop at 315-489-2862, Betty Krop at 315-405-6804, or their daughter Christina Krop at 315-286-5753.