WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - Since February, Nancy Hathaway and her staff at Heart for Orphans have logged countless hours and thousands of miles trying to get the children in their care to safety.
For 15 years, the nonprofit has supported orphans with its transition homes — first in Ukraine, then Belarus and Kenya.
Understandably, the biggest focus as of late has been in the country fighting invading Russian forces. Hathaway says when the fighting broke out, her families had to leave quickly, in some cases with just the clothes on their back, and drive across the war-torn country.
"We've just seen the goodness of God in so many things," Hathaway said of the kindness families in the care of Heart for Orphans received in the weeks and months since.
She saw it herself during a visit to the Ukraine-Romania border in March (she plans to return to June), but even then, some of the organization's families were stuck on the other side. Then last week, came word that the last remaining transition home group stuck in Ukraine, Mel's House, had finally crossed the border into Romania.
Paperwork issues, Hathaway says, held up the process.
"We were so excited. I said when you cross that border I want a photograph. I want a photograph so we can see that it actually happened because it felt like such an uphill battle for so long, but, yeah, they're doing great," she told News 3.
It's bittersweet, however. Hathaway says a handful of young men age-eligible to fight in Ukraine's military were required to stay back, but she's been able to stay in contact with them, while also working to get her families — now scattered across Europe — settled into their new locations.
On top of that, the organization's facility for teenagers near eastern Ukraine's Donbas region, Friends club, was damaged from shelling, News 3 is told.
In the meantime, Heart for Orphans is still maintaining its undamaged facilities left behind around the country as shelters for Ukrainian refugees seeking safety.
"A lot of people lived in highrises, they were bombed out, they don't know where to go, so they've come to our houses. We're still covering the cost of the houses, the utilities, etc. and providing food for the refugees," said Hathaway.
All of these efforts are costing money, Hathaway says, helped by a record amount in donations during a recent fundraiser. But, she says, the need is ongoing.
Heart for Orphans is maintaining a Ukraine Emergency Fund to support its mission; now more crucial than ever.