South African Aid Organization Helping Ukraine

Div Venter is a South African man whose wife, Natalia, is Ukrainian. Natalia was in Ukraine when the Russian invasion began and has refused to leave, staying to care for her family and to help those needing medicine and food. But as Russia’s invading forces close in, the situation for Natalia is quickly worsening.

Natalia fled the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, after the first Russian bombs fell in the city. She is now in a small village in the southwest portion of the country. But on Thursday night, there were attacks just 60 kilometers from her location.

Div asked her to describe to VOA what is happening in Ukraine. She sent this WhatsApp voice note: “What can I say about situation in Ukraine? This is not even like in hell. This is something like Armageddon. A lot of children died already, a lot of women died already. A lot of men died. A lot of city bombed already. A lot of city completely destroyed. Some small village absolutely does not have water, does not have electricity. The Russian military take away people’s cell phone which live in small village. People really suffer. People does not have food. It’s like completely, different, horrible life. You know. You don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”

Div, 48, who owns a small roofing company, met Natalia, 46, through friends in 2019. They married the following year. Due to COVID-19, there were delays with processing her spousal visa in South Africa, so the two are apart.

After Natalia fled Kyiv, Div put money into her bank account and she bought essential supplies for those in need, but she wanted to do more.

“You know, Natalia called me last week Friday to say: ‘Div, you know what, my people need help. My people need support. What can we do to help my people here? I have to keep myself busy. I cannot just sit and watch how everything goes to shambles here.’ And I said to her: ‘You know what, my love, I think that is a very good idea. Let me see what I can do from my side,’ ” Div told VOA.

He immediately thought of Gift of the Givers, which has been doing disaster relief work for 29 years. In that time, the group has raised over $266 million in aid.

According to the organization’s founder, Imtiaz Sooliman, that money has been donated mainly by South African citizens.

Sooliman said that after Div asked the group to get involved, Gift of the Givers has been giving money and building a network in Ukraine.

“Stuff being bought is food items, socks, jackets, warm clothes, sanitary pads, diapers, medicines for individual patients wherever they can source it,” Sooliman said. “So, I said, can’t we replicate this process somewhere else? And then they started doing it in Kyiv and then they did it in Kharkiv and they brought in a fourth area — it’s [along] the Belarus border — and all these areas are circled by Russian troops. We send money, find a shop, see what people need, buy the goods and start distributing, and that process is working very, very well.”

He said they’re now getting requests from all over Ukraine, which he’s asking Div and Natalia to sort through.

But why doesn’t Natalia cross the border and seek refuge?

“Let’s see what will happen in the next day or two,” Div said in response to the question. “You know, if it will become too life-threatening, I’m sure that she will leave. I hope that she will leave. I said to her from the beginning, ‘Please, Nata, just come back.’ But I understand. She is very worried about her grandson.”

Natalia’s parents, son and grandson are all in Ukraine.

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