'It is a horrendous inhumanity': 2 local groups describe the last 2 weeks at Ukrainian border

Mercy Chefs at Ukrainian border
Posted at 2:11 PM, Mar 13, 2022

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Two Hampton Roads organizations, Operation Blessing out of Virginia Beach and Mercy Chefs out of Portsmouth, have been on the ground helping Ukrainian refugees for about two weeks. They say the reality of war is heartbreaking.

"The horror of what is happening to the Ukrainian people is just indescribable," said Gary LeBlanc, the head chef and CEO of Mercy Chefs. "It is a horrendous inhumanity what's happening in Ukraine."

LeBlanc called News 3 from Suceava, Romania, a city about an hour's drive from Ukraine's Southwestern border.

The Hampton Roads native and his group arrived about two weeks ago.

"Over 16 years, we've fed nearly 20 million people, and we've never fed people in this desperate sort of horror of war," he said.

Mercy Chefs has been running warehouses filled with food, winter gear and hygiene supplies. Then volunteer drivers risk it all to transport those items to the front lines.

"We've been able to get deep, deep into Ukraine, to some of the cities that are under siege and actually deliver food on one side while the attacks are happening on the other side of the city," LeBlanc explained. "Those people hiding in their basements or hiding in the subways, are going to get taken care of."

Two of those people are the parents of one of Mercy Chef's missionaries. They are an elderly couple who refuse to leave their home.

"While we were on the phone with them they were saying, 'I think tonight we are going to get a beautiful night's sleep,' just as another bombing run came through," said LeBlanc.

Virginia Beach's Operation Blessing describes similar heartbreaking scenes from their station in Przemysl, Poland, which is located just miles from the Medyka border crossing.

"At the Medyka border, we hear children crying all the time," said Mark Dijkens, the European regional director for Operation Blessing.

The organization is also running a warehouse and visiting cities along the Poland-Ukraine border to see what needs they can meet.

Operation Blessing says they are doing everything they can to meet demand.

"It just takes seconds before the supplies are depleted because everyone is so much in need for blankets and for food items," Dijkens explained.

And the window of opportunity to supply those items, LeBlanc believes, is closing.

"We're going to move as much product into Ukraine as fast as we can," he explained. "We just know it's just a matter of time before that window of opportunity is going to close."

Both Operation Blessing and Mercy Chefs say their biggest needs are winter clothes, blankets and baby formula.

"There is a great need for baby formula," LeBlanc said. "It's the number one request we've gotten from hospitals, orphanages and individuals."

LeBlanc adds that many of these mothers in need of baby formula come to the border alone.

"It's the horrors of war. So many of these people have had husbands drive the wife and the young children at the border, tell them goodbye, then turn around to go back and fight the Russians," he explains.

But despite the horrors of war, both organizations agree they see humanity shine through every day.

"We saw a guy playing a grand piano at the Mydeka border crossing," Dijkens said. "He managed to get his piano there and was playing songs for people and it changed the atmosphere."

Both organizations say they are in need of donations.

You can donate to Operation Blessing here and Mercy Chefs here.