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PowerUp: Helping the orphans of Ukraine

Empower Wisconsin  | April 22, 2022

MADISON — As the death count in Ukraine climbs, so do the numbers of orphans of Vladimir Putin’s devastating war.

Nearly two-thirds of the European nation’s 7.5 million children have been forced to flee their homes in the two months since the Russian army invaded the former Soviet nation. Many of them are on the run without their loved ones. Many have watched their parents and other family members die.

R.J. Johnson, founder of The World Orphan Fund,  got a Facebook message from a non-governmental organization in Ukraine the Sunday before Easter. Could his organization help?

By that Wednesday, Johnson and World Orphan Fund board member Joe Spadino were on a plane. The next day they were on the ground in Chernivtsi, a city about the size of Madison in southwestern Ukraine. Johnson and Spadino, both from the Badger State, spent the next four days — through Easter — in a frenzied effort to reach and help as many orphans as they could.

“When we saw the opportunity to connect with the people who were working on the ground with children in Ukraine, we just couldn’t say no,” said Johnson, a long-time conservative activist and co-founder of Empower Wisconsin.

The World Orphan Fund over the last decade has directly aided projects assisting orphans in 16 countries  — in South America and Central America and in Africa. When war broke out in Ukraine, the people behind the nonprofit organization knew where they had to be.

The Ukrainian Orphan Crisis fund was established to provide emergency funding for food, medical supplies, housing, caregivers and transportation.

“We are working directly with NGOs on the ground and our volunteers vet each and every request,” the organization’s website states. Just like the World Orphan Fund, 100 percent of donations to the Ukraine campaign go directly to fund projects to aid orphaned children.

Chernivtsi, at least as of last week, had escaped the armies and bombs of the massive Russian military. But it is a center for humanitarian aid, with more than 80,000 refugees pouring into the city — 25,000 of those children. The latest data from the United Nations estimates that 2.8 million children are now displaced within Ukraine and another 2 million have fled to neighboring countries.

“Many of the children that we met, their parents had been killed in the war and they are new orphans,” Johnson told Empower Wisconsin’s M.D. Kittle last week on the Jay Weber Show  “So they’re just scrambling for places to put these children and they’re doing amazing things. The lack of ego and the humility of these people is incredible.”

R.J. Johnson talks about life on the ground for the orphaned children of Ukraine and what the World Orphan Fund is doing to help on this edition of PowerUp, Empower Wisconsin’s podcast.

If you would like to help the orphans of Ukraine, please consider making a tax-deductible donation here.

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