Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Heartwarming Humanitarian Aid from Florida Reaches Vaishnavas in Ukraine
By Lila Sakti Devi Dasi   |  Jul 29, 2023
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The dedicated efforts of ISKCON devotees from New Ramana Reti in Alachua, FL, have culminated in a significant act of compassion, as a sizeable humanitarian aid shipment has finally reached the Vaishnava communities in Ukraine.

The situation in Ukraine posed challenges for the shipment, with the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing war disrupting regular transport routes. As a result, essential supplies, including deity worship paraphernalia, incense, dhotis, and sarees, became scarce or unavailable for local devotees. Some devotees in Ukraine had to share their own clothes for deity seva, highlighting the urgency of the aid.

Finally, after weeks of travel through an extended sea and land shipping route via Poland and Western Ukraine, across territories often exposed to air strikes, the devotional items reached their destination in New Mayapur. The local devotees in Ukraine were overjoyed to receive these heartfelt contributions, and their gratitude towards the generous donors from the New Ramana Reti community knew no bounds.

One Day for Ukraine

This charitable initiative was part of the “One Day for Ukraine” interfaith festival fundraiser on October 8, 2022, organized by the Vaishnava International Relief Association (VIRA), Inc., a non-profit in Alachua. Kasisvar Das, the president of VIRA and event organizer, said, “The idea to help the Vaishnava community in Ukraine was sparked by the outbreak of war in February 2022. With the blessings and guidance of HH Niranjana Swami (GBC for Ukraine) and HG Acyuta Priya Prabhu (Zonal Supervisor), VIRA, Inc was incorporated in Alachua and joined the global initiative “Share Your Care.”

Lila Sakti Devi Dasi, Vice President, and event co-organizer, noted, “VIRA initially started our humanitarian efforts by helping Ukrainian devotee refugees who begun to arrive in the USA. Later, the idea of a large-scale festival was born,” she continued, “The event’s success was owed in large part to the leadership team at the New Ramana Reti Dham, the tireless help and guidance from Anuttama Das, Bhadra Das as well as Brahmatirtha Das, and the whole interfaith community that came out to support the Ukrainian nation, not only as vendors and attendees at the event but also through various donations, contributions, and sponsorships.”

Planning for the event took over six months, involved over 30 devotee volunteers, and resulted in over 700 attendees, including the mayor of Alachua and the now-mayor of Gainesville. Funds were raised through various activities, including an art gallery called “War Through the Eyes of The Child,” where students from The Bhaktivedanta Academy contributed their artwork, and attendees could purchase the displayed pieces. The artwork was also displayed in the Town of Alachua Municipal Building Gallery. Mayor Gib Coerper publicly recognized students and VIRA staff. All the proceeds from the fundraiser were sent to support Vaishnava communities and local orphanages in Ukraine.

Support Dharma in Ukraine

To gather clothing donations, VIRA set up a tent at the temple grounds every Sunday, displaying their banner “Support Dharma in Ukraine.” The response from the devotee community was overwhelming, leading to bags and bags of clothes being collected. The generosity was such that Lila Sakti’s garage was filled to the ceiling with these donations, and it took ten volunteers several months to collect, sort, pack, label, and prepare the shipment. This shipment comprised 1,200 pounds of devotional clothes, including saris, gopi dresses, kurtas, children’s garments, and more.

The items were sent to the New Mayapur farm in Ukraine, which serves as the largest ISKCON community in the region, providing a sanctuary for around 150 devotees, many of whom are refugees that have lost their homes and possessions. Additionally, special thanks were extended to Radha Silvester, who donated over 700 re-usable hygiene kits for women and girls and over 400 new knitted hats, scarves, and gloves on behalf of “Days for Girls International.” These items will be distributed to local orphanages, shelters as well as devotee families in Dnipro, Ukraine, this fall.

The war in Ukraine continues to take its toll, with two Hare Krishna temples destroyed and the loss of 18 ISKCON devotees on the frontline. Many have been displaced from their homes and continue to face the harsh realities of living amidst ongoing warfare. Therefore, prayers and support remain critical for the welfare of these communities.

If you wish to support the Vaishnava communities and people in Ukraine in any way, please email VIRA at vira.charity.info@gmail.com or follow them on Instagram and Facebook.