Mercy Chefs, a faith-based nonprofit that distributes food in disaster zones, is documenting its current work with people trying to survive the conflict in Ukraine, taking photographs and videos that show the faces of war.
Men, women and children, whole families in Ukraine are pictured holding food, oranges, baby formula, cases of water, and more. Mercy Chefs founder and CEO Gary Leblanc called WINK News from a tiny Romanian town 20 minutes outside of Ukraine. His team has a warehouse there, it has so far moved more than one million pounds of food into basements, bomb shelters and subway stations.
“The faces and stories are unbelievable,” Leblanc said. “We’ve been in conflict zones. We’ve been in places that were dangerous. But we’ve never been in an active war zone.”
In home videos and photos, Mercy Chefs document what they can. Some of the most intimate, memorable moments, though, happen off-camera.
“Our team arrived and they were handing out oranges,” Leblanc said. “And then our guys said that, you know, you gave a child in orange, and they would just start crying. It was the highlight of their week. I mean, I give my children fruit all the time. I’ve never had one of my children cry because I gave them a piece of fruit.”
Mercy Chefs have also captured the best of humanity: Hugs from grateful Ukrainians, birthday songs for babies at orphanages, and prayers. Mercy Chefs get it done even when there’s a language barrier.
“We were praying with a bishop of one of the denominations of Ukraine the other day; he stopped at the warehouse to thank us and to pray over what we were doing,” Leblanc said. “And so, from English, it had to go to Romanian, and from Romanian, it had to be translated into Ukrainian—and then he spoke Russian because he was Orthodox [Catholic]—and then from Ukrainian, it had to be translated into Russian, and then all the way back through to me, and I was like, ‘We’re gonna keep this short and simple. There’s too much that could be mixed up in all this translation.'”
Fortunately, love has proven a universal language everywhere the Chefs have gone.
“We’re going to need to continue to support Ukrainians as they rebuild their country for decades,” Leblanc said. “Mercy Chefs is preparing to be able to follow refugee resettlement camps to Italy or Germany or wherever we need to… I would say to people that have family in Ukraine that someone is here, and someone cares. And there’s a lot of talk all around the world, but please know there are those of us that believe in action and not talk, and they’re here and they’re doing all they can.”
For more information on Mercy Chefs visit mercychefs.com.