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Portland-based Mercy Corps on the ground in Ukraine and at border crossings

The war in Ukraine is impacting millions of people. Portland-based Mercy Corps is there trying to help refugees spilling into neighboring countries.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Following the Russian invasion, Ukraine is in a humanitarian crisis as people try to flee to safety to avoid violence.  Portland-based Mercy Corps is helping.

"It's an absolutely massive number of people and what I think is really so astounding is just how quickly this has all come about,” said Cassandra Nelson, who is the Ukraine humanitarian response advisor for Mercy Corps. She left the Portland area for the region about a week ago.

Since then, Nelson has been working at the Siret border crossing, the busiest for refugees fleeing into Romania.

Approximately 2.3 million people have fled Ukraine to bordering countries in less than two weeks. Nelson said half of the refugees are children and most of the rest are mothers.

“And what I’m finding in my conversations with these women is that they have left people behind,” said Nelson.

The aid worker said she met one woman who was crossing back from Romania into Ukraine to return to her hard-hit town. It was too chaotic and risky to try and get everyone out the first time.

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“And so she took one and got her daughter set up and safe, and then she was going back to get her two-year-old and her mother.”

There have been incredible acts of bravery by refugees and for those able to escape to neighboring countries, incredible acts of giving by people willing and able to help them.

“It is so moving to see the response here in Romania, the response of the Romanian people and officials it is just something I have never witnessed in my life. There's an absolute generosity of spirit here and I know it's happening in other countries bordering Ukraine as well,” said Nelson.

But this crisis requires a global effort. Portland-based Mercy Corps is one of many humanitarian aid organizations there to help.

Mercy Corps is working in Romania and Poland, helping all those who need to cross borders and getting much-needed supplies into Ukraine. They also have a team inside Ukraine, working with local partners.

“And they are working to get goods like medical goods and food and other items to areas where they need it most in Ukraine. This weekend we’ve got a big shipment of medical supplies that are going to a monastery that has an orphanage with about 400 kids with chronic health conditions.”  

Nelson said there are another 1,000,000 people inside Ukraine displaced from their homes and 12,000,000 in the country needing some type of assistance.

RELATED: People using Airbnb to send money to Ukrainians

She sees a commonality with people in crisis around the world.

“I find that in my work, the people are always fundamentally the same; you know their number one concern is their children.”  

For aid workers, helping the suffering is rewarding. To see the suffering is tough. Nelson said it often hits her at night.

“And sometimes later when you go to bed your heart just wells up with tears because the stories are incredibly difficult to hear. And then you think, if it's difficult to hear, God what is it like to live that, live what they're living."

Mercy Corps is now working on setting up a cash transfer system, to get money into the hands of those people, so they can spend it on what they need. You can donate to Mercy Corps, to help them deliver humanitarian aid in Ukraine.

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