Bay Area nonprofit Roots of Peace collecting warm clothing for Ukrainian children during Christmas holiday

San Rafael, California (KGO) — Ukrainians celebrate Christmas for the first time since the Russian invasion began on February 24, 2022.

Celebrations are expected to be more low-key this year as the number of casualties increases.

The US government estimates that about 40,000 Ukrainian civilians were killed or injured in the war.

43-year-old Natasha Stepanenko is one of the injured.

Ms. Stepanenko lost her left leg in a missile attack while waiting at the train station in Kramatorsk, hoping to evacuate to Kyiv with her family.

Daughter Yana lost both legs in the explosion.

“She was lying on her dead grandmother and crawling out of her,” Stepanenko said. Stepanenko is currently in rehab in San Diego with her 11-year-old daughter.

They both got prosthetic legs.

Read more: Bay Area nonprofit winemaker turns Ukraine minefield into vineyard

Ivan Chaban is also undergoing treatment in San Diego. While walking from town to town for food with his family, he was run over by a Russian tank and lost one of his legs.

“After I felt as if I had been swept away, darkness covered my eyes and I fell unconscious to the ground,” recalls Ivan.

Earlier this month, Heidi Kuhn met with several Ukrainian amputees in San Diego to find ways to help.

Kuhn runs Roots of Peace, a humanitarian group that clears landmines from war-torn areas and turns land into farmland.

The organization launched a holiday fundraising campaign centered around the Christmas stocking tradition.

“Roots of Peace is designing Ukrainian Christmas stockings that represent the limbs that people have lost in war,” Kuhn explained.

Video: Ukrainians prepare for winter weather blasts amid missile strikes

Kuhn wants Ukrainian refugees to help design stockings in the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

Stockings are packed with blankets, gloves, thermal socks and other items many Ukrainians need to survive the harsh winter. Portable foods such as energy bars are also necessary.

“For any family, it will be a beautiful memory to remember their children and their mother. The family is now suffering from a dark and terrible war. They don’t know if they will live another day. ‘ said Natalya Chong. , a Ukrainian immigrant helping with translations for refugees in San Diego.

The war has already changed Christmas in Ukraine. Traditionally, Ukraine celebrates her two Christmases.

Catholic Christmas is December 25th and Orthodox Christmas is January 7th.

But this year, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church decided to celebrate Christmas on December 25 in order to distance itself from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Yana Stepanenko has a message for Ukrainian children this holiday season.

“Be brave,” she said, wishing her a Merry Christmas.

To donate to the Ukrainian Holiday Stocking Fundraiser, visit the Roots of Peace website.

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