As we watch the war in Ukraine from the safety of our living rooms, Britta Ellwanger, whose family calls San Juan Bautista home, is in Warsaw, Poland, housing a Ukrainian family, traveling to the Ukraine border to translate and helping get supplies to Ukrainians in their homeland.
Ellwanger, a graduate of Stanford University with a degree in political science and minor in Eastern European Studies has lived in Ukraine for the last 10 years and was studying at Kyiv National University when the Russian forces invaded the county in February. At that time, she was in Israel visiting her father. She could have stayed there, she could have returned to the United States but she went to Warsaw to help the people of the land she now calls home.
Ellwanger does not call what is happening a war or a conflict she calls it “terror.” She told BenitoLink that families crossing into Poland have been on high alert but when they get into Poland and start talking, when they feel safer, this is when they break down. Fluent in Ukrainian, she translates for the refugees, helping them to get to the next stage of their journey, telling them where they can find immediate food and shelter and often just being a shoulder to cry on.
Ira Fushtey from Ivano-Frankivsk and her six children who crossed the border at Yahodyn-Dorohusk are being housed by Ellwanger in her Warsaw apartment. Ten years ago, when Ellwanger went to Ukraine on her Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints mission, the Fushtey family housed Ellwanger. Ira’s husband remains in Ukraine where he has opened his church to refugees.
The children make the most of their temporary home in Warsaw. While playing hairdressing, Darina Fushtey, when asked what color wires she wanted in her hair, said “blue and yellow; the colors of my flag.”
Both Ellwanger and Fushtey said they believe the war will go on for a while, and Fushtey believes she and her children will return home. Ellwanger believes she will return too. Fushtey said the war was not a surprise because Russia has been trying to take Ukrainian land for a long time.
Ellwanger also helps get supplies such as defensive gear to Ukranians facing Russian troops and to clean up rubble following an attack. Due to safety concerns, Ellwanger spoke little about these activities. She told BenitoLink that Russian forces will strike at humanitarian buses and corridors and use facial recognition technology to target humanitarian workers. She is in contact with friends in Ukraine including her best friend Eduard L who has been on the frontline of an important battle fighting for his country (full name and location withheld for safety reasons).
She said she is concerned about future aid. “I worry that over time as this war continues, global interest will wane as people return to their daily lives and personal concerns. If broad political will is no longer as loudly behind Ukrainians as it is now, I am less confident politicians will continue to do what they can to end the war as well as support relief efforts.”
Ellwanger’s mother, Margret Ellwanger, said her daughter had always been quiet and described Britta’s response to current events as “Britta unleashed.” Ellwanger senior, who founded the charity for Peace with her husband Russel Ellwanger, said that her family believes in helping others. “It’s not about us,” she said, adding that her family has done well and believes in sharing what they have with those who need a helping hand.
Britta Ellwanger shared this poem by an unknown author with BenitoLink.
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