It’s 5,700 miles from the war in Ukraine to the state of Mississippi—a world away, but not too far to extend a helping hand.
It began when Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann heard from Sergiy Gamaliy, governor of Khmelnytskyi, one of Ukraine’s western provinces (or oblasts), about 200 miles southwest of Kyiv. Gamaliy wanted to learn more about the cottages Mississippi built for displaced residents in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
To Gamaliy, whose province has seen an influx of 200,000 refugees from his country’s war-torn areas, the cottages looked like a potential answer for the housing shortages in his region, which had a prewar population of about 1.2 million.
Obstacles with shipping proved insurmountable, at least in the short term, but a door had been opened. “That turned into a conversation of how we could help him and what other things he needed,” Hosemann says. “I said to him, ‘Look, I have the ability as lieutenant governor of Mississippi to adopt a sister state, and on behalf of Mississippi, we want you to be our sister state in Ukraine.’”
Gamaliy happily accepted the offer, and the Mississippi Legislature subsequently adopted a resolution that established Khmelnytskyi Oblast as a sister state. Gamaliy also sent a list of needed supplies. “With 200,000 refugees, they needed everything, all kinds of different things,” Hosemann says, reciting a smattering of items from a long list. “Dry rations, bread, crackers, canned foods, diapers, sleeping bags, pillows, towels.”
Through Mississippi Sen. Neil Whaley, Hosemann connected with Jerry Moore Jr. of World/Ukraine Missions in Holly Springs. Under the umbrella of the Church of Christ there, the organization has been sending supplies to orphanages in Ukraine and other countries since 2004.
To accelerate the aid, Hosemann bought a container of food—about 20 tons—and paid for its shipping, typically about $7,000. “Forty-two thousand pounds of rice will feed an awful lot of people in Ukraine,” he says. “I’m happy to do that, and I’m personally pleased I was able to contribute.” Hosemann is now looking for private donations and plans to send more containers.
With 200,000 refugees, they needed everything, all kinds of different things. —Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann
World/Ukraine Missions uses warehouses just outside Ukraine’s borders, meaning Russia’s invasion didn’t interrupt shipments. “When this hit, you couldn’t get anything into Ukraine,” he says. “We could still ship.”
That’s proven to be a lifeline, as World/Ukraine Missions and its partners have shipped more than 50 containers of food, clothing and other supplies since the invasion started in late February. “We are feeding them every day, we’re sending them clothing, we’re sending them hygiene products,” Moore says.
World/Ukraine Missions has an established logistical system, and it sends representatives to ensure that shipments make it to those in need. A semiretired professor at the University of Mississippi, Moore had previously taught Whaley, leading to the serendipitous connection. It has allowed World/Ukraine Missions to supersize its impact.
“The resolution Mississippi passed was such a big deal for us,” Moore says. “When we told people about our partnership with the lieutenant governor and that he was going to help us and that there was a resolution passed by the state of Mississippi, it really sped things up. People were not putting us on the back burner.
“What a blessing this has been to ramp up the efforts to get needed supplies to people who are desperately, desperately seeking help,” he adds. “I’ve been there, my team has been there, and it’s absolutely frightening to see what’s going on with these families. These families have been ripped apart.”
12 Million Displaced
The United Nations estimates that more than 12 million people have fled their homes in Ukraine since the war began. About two-thirds of them remain in Ukraine.
“They are such a proud people,” Moore says. “When he [Russian President Vladimir Putin] went in there, he had no idea.”
Based in central Ukraine, Anya Nura works as a translator for World/Ukraine Missions and helps coordinate the shipments coming into the country with Moore and his team.
“Ukraine cannot survive on its own,” Nura says. “The fact that Ukrainians receive humanitarian aid truly helps to withstand, to hold on and know that we have a future, that our kids will not be hungry, that so many people care and pray for us, and they take steps to provide this humanitarian aid to our nation to help us survive.”
Russia’s aggression “is unacceptable and tragic,” Hosemann says. “My state’s position is that we are going to help with humanitarian aid for the victims of this holocaust in Ukraine.”
Hosemann says he hopes other states follow Mississippi’s lead and connect with a Ukrainian oblast with similar needs as a sister state. “There’s a dire need for this,” he says. “All of those places you see that are bombed-out, blackened and charred, those people who haven’t been killed or relocated to Russia have gone somewhere in Ukraine with literally a backpack, and that’s it.”
Eric Peterson is a Denver-based freelancer.