Williamsburg nonprofit helping Ukrainian orphans flee their country amid Russian invasion

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Posted at 2:03 PM, Feb 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-28 10:09:03-05

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - It would be hard enough for a child to pick up and leave their country with their family, but imagine fleeing without your parents.

It's the reality for the children under the watch of a Williamsburg nonprofit, whose mission is to get children out of dangerous situations safely.

Heart for Orphans' transition homes help children without parents learn the skills for life. But the Williamsburg organization's work doesn't happen at the office, or even close by — right now it's taking place in western Ukraine.

"My husband and I adopted three girls from an orphanage in Ukraine," said Nancy Hathaway, one of the founders of Heart for Orphans. "Many kids would come up to you and hang on you. It just broke our hearts, and so we felt like we had to do something."

Twenty years after adopting their girls, Nancy and Steve Hathaway's organization has helped hundreds of children, providing transition homes and programs in Ukraine, Belarus and Kenya.

Most of the work in that first country...the one currently under a violent invasion.

"When it happened, it happened so quickly," Nancy Hathaway said.

Hathaway says her team overseas had prepared, getting the kids ready and their bags packed, before each home had to flee.

"[They're all] in cities that had been shelled," Hathaway said.

The organization's bus used for transportation by its largest house in Ukraine, was undergoing work days before the invasion started. Hathaway said it was only complete the night before.

"It was just literally, they got in and off they went," she said.

That group left their home in Zaporizhzhia and is now driving across the country. The rest of the groups have either made it to, or are close to, the western border, Hathaway says, heading to countries like Slovakia and Hungary.

"At this point we don't even know what the expenses are going to be. We don't know what it's going to look like, but we're going to have to relocate them out of the country," Hathaway said.

Because Hathaway and her staff have a mission, refusing to abandon these kids who've already felt so much loss.

"These are people I love very much. They're like my kids and my grandkids," she said. "I will be so happy to get them out of the country, and then we will look at what the future holds."

Heart for Orphans says it's set up an emergency fund to help move its children to safety. To donate or learn more, click here.