PAWCATUCK — Once the initial shock of watching her homeland under siege by the Russian military wore off slightly, Yana Ferreira knew she had to do something.

"When I saw the first bomb drop in Ukraine I felt helpless and started to get depressed, but then I told myself I had to act," Ferreira said during a recent interview.

Ferreira was born in Ukraine and lived there until 2005 when she moved to the United States to be with her husband, Tony Ferreira. The couple and their 7-year-old daughter, Scarlett, live in Pawcatuck. They met when Tony Ferreira was on a business trip to Ukraine looking for lumber for his carpentry business. Yana was working as an interpreter when they met.

Yana's 73-year-old mother, Valentina, remains in Ukraine, as does her sister, Vita. Valentina and Vita considered staying with each other during the ongoing hostilities but made a strategic decision against it.

"My mom is not with my sister because they wanted to stay at separate houses because when the war started they were not sure which city would be hit first," Yana said.

Rather than risk being immobilized by sadness, worry and grief, Yana decided to collect supplies to send to Ukraine. She learned of a New York City-based organization that was collecting donated items from around the country and sending them to Ukraine.

After speaking with representatives of the organization, Yana spoke with the management of the JCPenney store in Westerly, where she works cutting hair in the store's salon, if she could place a box to collect donated items in the store. The managers agreed and told her she could place two boxes in the store. The effort caught on quickly.

"Within two or three hours I came back and they were already full," Yana said.

Moved to help

The boxes in the store combined with a request for donated goods that Yana put on her Facebook page started what has become a grassroots, communitywide effort to help. Individuals, businesses, schools, churches, and organizations from Bozrah, Conn. to Wakefield, have joined in to provide medical supplies, clothing, non-perishable food items, personal hygiene products, kitchen utensils, sleeping bags, monetary donations, moving services, packing assistance, and handmade cards for children in Ukraine.

"Helping Yana with this project has definitely restored my faith in my fellow man. I have met such wonderful people," said Heather Young.

A North Stonington resident, Young learned of Yana's effort through her Facebook announcement. She dropped off some items and, after meeting Yana, started helping to organize additional donation sites. Young also helped secure a donation from Sterling Moving & Storage in Bozrah. Yana calls Young her "fairy godmother."

The moving company provided a large box truck and a moving crew to load the donated items and bring them to New York on Saturday. Young also helped secure a large donation of medical equipment from South County Smiles, a dental practice in Wakefield, and helped establish a collection site at Pure Eco Spa in Westerly, where locally handcrafted Ukraine-themed items were available in return for donations.

"I am so grateful — I will never forget this kindness. It has showed how there are so many good-hearted people in this world," Yana said.

On Saturday Yana and her husband, along with several volunteers and the crew from Sterling Moving & Storage, met up at the former St. Michael's School on Liberty Street in Pawcatuck. Father Dennis M. Perkins, pastor of St. Michael's Church, provided the school space as a storage site when Yana and Tony ran out of room at their house. Tony has taken time off from work to assist with managing the donations, and Yana has often been up until 3 or 4 in the morning working on sorting and packing the donated items.

"In the end, if not for the people who donated, this wouldn't be happening. They are the real heroes," Tony Ferreira said.

On Monday, the Ferreiras and volunteers entered a front room at the couple's house that was stuffed from floor to ceiling with boxes of donations that Yana had packed and labeled. The items were moved over to the school and then loaded on the truck and taken to New York on Saturday.

'It's like they were brainwashed'

Yana said she speaks with her sister and mother every day, but communication can only occur during specific hours because the Ukrainian government has asked its citizens to refrain from cellphone use at night and to turn off many electronic items. Ukrainians are also required to observe an evening curfew. Yana's mother hears bombs exploding every day and her village is surrounded by Russian soldiers. The sound of sirens warning of aerial assaults have become common across Ukraine.

The water supply where Yana's sister lives has been compromised and her sister's family has taken in seven people whose homes are no longer habitable.

Yana's mother emigrated to Ukraine from Russia. The family has many relatives who still live in Russia.

"It's very shocking when we talk to them and tell them what's going on. They don't realize — it's like they were brainwashed because Putin owns the media," Yana said.

Yana said she worries the war will go on for a long time, predicting Ukrainians will never stop fighting.

Finding solace

After a few days of rest following the shipment of the donated items on Saturday, Yana said she plans to work with Young on a new relief effort. For now, she prays for her family and friends in Ukraine and finds solace in the help she has found here.

"I want to thank everyone. A lot of people have helped. I want to thank every single soul for every donation, however small. They all help," Yana said.

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