Just as the world was beginning to life from pandemic travel restrictions, another road block erupted. Many of us have been looking forward to traveling through Europe. I hoped to return to Slovakia and Croatia but have put those plans on pause since Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine. Other friends have postponed river cruises and study abroad programs. It’s a personal decision and there are arguments supporting whether to go or not. These delays are ‘first world’ problems, insignificant in the light of the war’s devastation and human suffering, but the angst and anger we feel about the conflict is real no matter the distance.

Every day since Russia invaded the Ukraine has been a nightmare of new atrocities. For the citizens certainly, but the shock has been felt around the world. The shift to war with its unbelievable brutality and destruction is hard to fathom for those of us far from the front lines. How can we help ease challenges for refugees from the Ukraine? I first looked locally in San Diego and then through a network of associates online. Going through trusted referrals has simplified the effort and please know that I do not benefit from listing the companies and charities in this post.

Friends helping ease challenges for refugees at Adventure by the Book fundraiser

Helping ease challenges for refugees at Adventure by the Book fundraiser

Heart – Connect with Refugees and Immigrants Nearby

Growing up I was taught to ‘mind my own business’ and it’s taken years to get comfortable with speaking with strangers. If ever there were a time to share words of comfort and encouragement it’s now and I began very simply at a favorite restaurant in my neighborhood. Sushi Fish Attack is a modest space with delightfully fresh and affordable fare. I’ve always admired the hard-working owners, a Japanese and Russian couple, both far from their home countries. The last time I was in, I stopped the husband and asked how his family is doing since the invasion of Ukraine. In a brief moment during a busy dinner hour, he took a breath and said his family is actually from Latvia and doing well. We smiled as he nodded and thanked me. I know that Latvians have been supporting the Ukrainian efforts and helping to educate Russians, shelter expat Russian journalists and supports family ties. That moment in the restaurant was a brief, human moment of solidarity and don’t we all need that in our lives?

A San Diego business with Ukrainian ties is Oh My Cake. Founded by Ukrainian, Daria Nadar, the pastry shop proudly partners with suppliers of fresh ingredients from France and Belgium. If you can’t get to the shop, order online!

Spirit – Use What You Already Know

I’ve been a TM Siddha for decades but forgot the power of sitting in meditation with a group. It’s a small wonder as virus cautions kept us apart the past few years. In my practice over the decades, the power of the group was palpable at large gatherings. I felt a transcendent bliss that was quantified through studies to help reduce stress in cities and countries. It was powerful to attend several huge retreats in the 1980’s and 90’s at Maharishi University in Fairfield, Iowa. Over the years I’ve kept up my practice – it’s as spiritual as selfish (the meditations are blissfully restful and restorative.)

In the past month, as the Ukrainian crisis unfolded, a new way to meditate ‘together’ evolved. Over Zoom, TM Siddhas have been sitting at the same time morning and evening. There’s been as few as 300 from across the country and as many as 1,550 during the sessions that I’ve attended. If you received the TM Siddhi techniques, I hope you’ll join us and lend your spirit and time for world peace.

During the pandemic I took up a daily singing practice following Sanskrit chants with Deva Premal and Mitten as they broadcast live from their retreat in Costa Rica. I love singing the ancient tones and their melodic arrangements. Their sessions for peace continue on YouTube and on their App. Sometimes over 3k people attend live from around the world.

Perhaps there’s a community experience you can rekindle?

Oh My Cake Ukranian run pastry shop in San Diego

Oh My Cake Ukrainian-run pastry shop in San Diego

Look for Local Events and Businesses to Support

Adventures by the Book was founded in San Diego by Susan McBeth over a decade ago. An entrepreneurial powerhouse, Susan’s mission is to connect authors and the public. By supporting a host of initiatives over the years she’s built a loyal following of readers who are also invested in a peaceful society. Knowing that it wasn’t a surprise to find out that her recent luncheon fundraiser with Authors for Peace sold out quickly.

It started with the location. Pushkin Russian restaurant in downtown San Diego has been suffering since the start of the Ukraine war. The restaurant has been a target of hateful online attacks which have caused them distress and loss of business, especially after suffering from the economic effects of Covid. Susan had an earlier event at the restaurant and knew the owners. She shares that:

We couldn’t “turn our backs on these lovely people who are so passionate about books that they named their restaurant after the famous Russian author, playwright, and poet, Alexander Pushkin.”

Pushkin is credited with establishing modern Russian literature by reinventing the country’s classical poetry. The restaurant opened in 2015 with a focus on, “bringing out the authenticity and deep history of cuisines from across the former Soviet regions which have had a tremendous impact on dishes popular in Russia today.”

Pushkin Russian Restaurant Helps Ease Challenges for Refugees from the Ukraine

Since 2015 Pushkin Restaurant has been serving authentic cuisines from across the former Soviet nations. The chef and his family hail from the region and many of the staff are Ukrainian. As the Authors for Peace event began we passed a glass jar decorated with yellow and blue ribbons around the table. Soon it was packed with bills for the staff to share with family in the Ukraine. The Adventures by the Book founders also donated 100% of the afternoon’s registration costs to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) for emergency supplies of food and medical care to ease the challenges of refugees from the Ukraine.

I was seated at a table with authors and book lovers as platters of food arrived. Served family style, we all soon became friends while passing the plates and sharing our impressions of each dish like the Ukrainian Salo – a board heaped with meats, condiments, pickles and fried potatoes . I kept ladling Beef Stroganov onto my plate, sipped cherry punch, and indulged in the Dolmas, grape-leaf-wrapped delicacies that reminded me of my mother’s family from Croatia.

Plateful of chicken Russian style in the Pushkin Restaurant

Plateful of chicken Russian style in the Pushkin Restaurant

It was an afternoon event and I made the hard decision to refrain from exploring the drink menu. The wine list had tempting reds and whites from Georgia and Albania. The cocktail list was a work of literature in its own right. Crafted cocktails have inventive names like the Chekhov, Summer in Sochi, Morning in Chernobyl, Armenian Fashioned, and Sex in USSR. Their Signature Cocktail titles are equally inspired including the Tolstoy, Gazaryan Mule, Siberian Mule, and From Russia With Love.

Indulge in Traditional Dishes

I did indulge in the classic Russian honey cake, Medovik, a dessert that dates back more than 200 years ,and look forward to returning with friends to explore that drink list.

In between courses Elizabeth Cobbs, author of American Umpire, enlightened us about the US history and role in negotiating other countries conflicts. Kaylie Jones added a personal note about ix months studying Russian in Moscow and the soldiers she befriended there, especially the one who confided how poorly trained the military was and vowed that he would “never shoot an American.”

Find Humanitarian Efforts Already Helping Ukrainians

This is a wise strategy I learned from the Substack newsletter, Everything Is Amazing by Mike Sowden. In a recent post, Curiosity in the Age of WTF, he suggests several trusted organizations that are helping the Ukrainians. Top of the list is People In Need. They have already been working in Ukraine for years, have built strong operations and are known for doing remarkable humanitarian work, often with limited funds. Connect with People in Need’s efforts to ease the challenges for refugees from Ukraine here.

The first course inside the Pushkin Restaurant

The first course inside the Pushkin Restaurant

Airbnb Strategy – Pay Not Stay

I’ve been an Airbnb traveler as well as a San Diego Superhost for several years and was delightfully surprised to hear about a simple way to get much needed cash directly into Ukrainian hands. First of all, applause for the home rental platform for offering free temporary housing for up to 100,000 refugees. Then renters have been booking some of the 300 listed Ukrainian properties without any intention of using the booking as a way to get money to hosts. Any Airbnb member can book a Ukrainian destination and then message the host to let them know they won’t be using the space and wanted to offer help. The platform also stepped up it’s assistance by waiving “all guest and host fees in Ukraine at this time.”

Etsy and a Direct Way to Ease Challenges for Refugees from Ukraine

Buzzfeed has a great discussion on strategies to support the creative community on Etsy by purchasing digital art and downloadable products like cross-stitch patterns. There’s no shipping involved as products are delivered online. Read more here.

While I’ve been thinking about how to organize this post and collecting ideas, I’ve enjoyed the Everything is Amazing newsletter on Substack. The deep well of curiosity that Mike Sowden shares is refreshing and lighthearted even when he tackles hard subjects like easing challenges for refugees. What a welcome antidote for these days of upheaval.