GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In Ukraine, Iryna Wells and her family were living what we here in the U.S. would consider the American Dream.
They had a home. The kids went to a good school and enjoyed all kinds of extracurricular activities.
“We work really hard. Yes, it wasn’t easy,” Wells told News 8 Saturday. “We had everything our family could want. We could afford all of that for our children. “
Suddenly, it was all gone.
“Everything was taken away on the night of February 24th,” she said.
That’s the night Russian artillery shells rained down on the Wells family’s Kiev neighborhood.
“We did not even understand at that point, what was waiting for us. We did not understand the scale of what was waiting for us,” Wells said.
She, her West Michigan-born husband and their three children escaped Ukraine, eventually making their way to West Michigan.
Wells’ story helped inspire parishioners at St. Isadore Catholic Church, their Knights of Columbus council, and St. Michael Ukrainian Catholic Church to hold a fundraiser Saturday night in Grand Rapids. The event was held at St. Isidore’s Parish Life Center in northeast Grand Rapids. They hope to raise at least $15,000 in humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
“We felt that this was a need that we needed to address,” said Mike Bertram with St. Isidore Knights of Columbus Council 12258.
There were incentives. People lined up for the pierogies and Ukrainian desserts.
Their donations will help fill the need for a long list of nonmilitary essentials. The big-ticket items are ambulances to carry the sick and wounded.
“When Russians see a big white van with a cross on the top, they try to shoot it. Two of our vehicles already got hit,” Wells said.
St. Michael previously raised enough funds to buy four ambulances, but one has already been destroyed.
A flag signed by Ukraine medics, including one who would later die transporting patients, was on display at Saturday’s fundraiser.
Wells said she’s not looking for pity for the people of her homeland. No Ukrainian wants that. They just need help in a fight they are convinced they will win.
“We have gotten up. We have gotten up to protect our land, our little children, our homes,” Wells said. “And we will stand to the last breath. But we will keep Ukraine independent.”