Touched by its support, Costa Mesa woman from Ukraine offers sweet thanks to local church
It was the sight of the blue and yellow banner hanging on the outside wall of St. James Episcopal Church in Newport Beach that prompted to deliver a Ukrainian cake to church the following Sunday.
“When I was passing by the church and saw the flag ‘Pray For Ukraine’ outside, I asked myself, ‘Are there any Ukrainians in that church?’” said Zamaraieva. “‘Or do they know of any Ukrainians?’”
Stepping inside, she met Family Life Pastor Jeremy Brock and learned St. James didn’t have Ukrainians in the congregation, and the banner was a symbol of support.
”I want to come and say thanks to the people of the church for supporting Ukraine even though they don’t know Ukrainians,” said Zamaraieva. “That touched me so deeply.”
Zamaraieva, originally from Odessa, Ukraine has been a Costa Mesa resident since 2021. With a degree in political science, she moved in 2015 to Italy, where she worked for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Currently she devotes her time as a volunteer to help the Ukrainian soldiers and displaced people.
“I’m trying to help my country as much as I can, to connect Ukrainian people through networks in the fastest, safest ways,” Zamaraieva said.
She is working remotely from her home to connect Ukrainians who have escaped their hometowns with volunteers in their area who can help them find transportation, a place to stay, food and medicine.
By distributing fliers around the community, she is also collecting urgently needed medical provisions and military supplies, including army boots, thermal wear and sleeping bags.
Once the boxes are filled with the donations, she delivers them to international freight company Meest-America in the Los Angeles area.
Julia Stadik, West Coast manager and humanitarian aid organizer of Meest (the Ukrainian word for bridge), explained that they rely on volunteers to help with the flood of humanitarian aid donations that they continue to accept, which has amounted to about 30 tons a week.
“The Ukrainian people want it known that they are aware of USA support and appreciate a lot,” said Zamaraieva. “We didn’t expect so much support, it’s deeply touching, honestly, all of this gives me hope Ukraine can do it and we can bring the peace.
“For those still in Ukraine, it’s a war that causes stress. I feel bad for them and it encourages me to help even more.”
The Ukrainians she’s in contact with share with her the relief they feel when they suddenly have a quiet place away from sirens, she said, adding that a single plastic cup they might find in a dumpster becomes like a trophy because it can be used to scoop water from a toilet.
Adding to the sweeping impact from the invasion are the displaced people now entering California through the Mexican border.
“There are so many Ukrainians [here] to give humanitarian support … so the Ukrainian refugees are not left alone at the Tijuana border,” said Zamaraieva. “We are volunteering to translate, help people in line with food and clothing and give rides.”
Zamaraieva’s friend, Vicky Shemer, also originally from Odessa, has offered up her family’s Irvine garage as a storage and collection site for refugees entering the border.
“We are collecting living necessities, like cups, plates, pots, pans, sheets and towels,” said Shemer. “My garage looks like a warehouse these days.”
Shemer, who works as a registered dietician and nutritionist, has been in the United States for 15 years.
“Its easier for [the refugees] to come to one spot and pick out what they need,” said Shemer, who gives them privacy and time to select items. She described recently helping an elderly Ukrainian couple who arrived with nothing and were in need of clothing.
“I wanted to make their experience more welcoming, friendly and smooth as possible instead of humiliating to come look through second-hand clothing,” she said.
Shemer explained the volunteers pick up the refugees at the border and drive them to her location right away so they can get what they need before they are taken to the homes of friends or relatives.
“There is also an immediate need for items for those waiting at the border,” said Shemer. “People waiting there need jackets and blankets; kids need toys, books, and [infants] need baby formula.”
As an expression of support on Sunday, March 27, St. James Episcopal Church in closing the service with the Ukrainian anthem.
“I can’t even tell you how touching it is,” said Zamaraieva. “People came up to me and want to hear me sing it.”
“They need community and emotional support and can’t lose faith during all of this horror,” said Reverend Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees. ”When Zamaraieva asked to be a part of our hospitality hour by bringing a Ukrainian cake to share, I said yes … and everyone loved the unusual taste of the chocolate crunch inside.”
Shemer, whose mom and brother are among loved ones still in Ukraine, acknowledged, ”We do need community and emotional support” before offering to bring Ukrainian pastries to the church next week since her sister, who is also living here, is a baker.
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