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Farmer evacuates Ukrainian orphans

Rodney and Christine Mast are parents of eight, including three adopted children from Ukraine.
Mississippi farmer, Rodney Mast, recently returned from Europe where he had helped evacuate Ukrainian orphans.

While Rodney Mast may be busy planting crops on his Crawford, Miss., farm, he admits that this season his heart is somewhere else. 

In March, Mast spent two weeks in Poland working with Ukrainian orphans who had been evacuated from their home country after the war began. It’s an experience he still has trouble finding words to describe. 

“It’s heartbreaking to meet these children who have left their home country with just a backpack of belongings, maybe a few photos. Some don’t even have that. And they’ve been through so much. It’s so much worse than what you see on the news. Some of these children spent weeks hiding in a basement until it was safe to evacuate. Some witnessed things they never should,” he said.  

“Many of the younger children cannot understand everything that is happening and how drastically their lives have changed, but the older children know. They want to go home. Some say they are ready to return to Ukraine to fight, but the reality is they may never see their homeland again,” he continued. 

International Host Connection 

Mast traveled to Poland with International Host Connection, a volunteer organization that matches Ukrainian orphans with U.S. host families. Mast and his wife, Christine, have worked with the organization to sponsor children for summer visits to their Mississippi farm. They eventually adopted three young brothers from Ukraine. (The couple are also parents to five biological children.) 

Rodney Mastchildren play in cornfield

Mast’s 8,000-acre farm in Crawford, Miss., is a good playground for youngsters.

In February, as the Masts watched the news of the Russian invasion, they feared for the vulnerable orphans as well as the orphanage caretakers they had come to know as friends. Rodney wanted to be there to help. 

“Our goal was to help facilitate evacuations. We wanted to get these kids and their caretakers to safety. Fortunately, most of the orphanages our organization has worked with were able to evacuate to Poland, but there are still orphans in areas where it is too dangerous to attempt to evacuate and a few in “safe” areas that are hoping they will not need to leave,” he said. 

First stop Poland 

Getting the children to Poland was just the first step. Mast and other International Host Connection team members worked to find short-term lodging for displaced children. They purchased food, clothing, shoes, and other necessities and distributed them to the facilities where children and caretakers had been moved. Volunteers bought computers and school supplies so children could continue their online education. They passed out toys and sports equipment, hoping to provide some normalcy.  

Rodney Mastpeople by van

Distributing clothing, shoes and other supplies at a Polish facility temporarily housing displaced orphans.

Poland has taken in almost 2.5 million people since the war began. About one in 15 people in Poland is now Ukrainian. Mast is not sure how much longer the country can continue its extraordinary support of refugees. 

“Poland has been absolutely wonderful, and the Polish people have been incredibly generous, but it’s time for the rest of the world to step up,” he said. “We can’t continue to expect Poland to shoulder the lion’s share of this crisis.” 

Expediting adoption of Ukrainian orphans

Mast is hopeful the U.S. will expedite adoption of Ukrainian orphans. 

“Let these children come. There are American families that already have connections through hosting that are eager to welcome these children to their homes and provide the stability and safety that they desperately need,” he said. 

Rodney MastUkrainian orphans

Amazingly, these Ukrainian orphans still find a reason to smile.

In a letter, dozens of U.S. lawmakers urged the Biden administration to take immediate action to unite the roughly 300 Ukrainian children going through the adoption process with their American adoptive or host families. The letter was signed by more than 70 Senators and Representatives, including Mississippi Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Rep. Trent Kelly (R-Miss.). 

The State Department, however, said in a statement the Ukrainian government has jurisdiction over Ukrainian children and has "expressed concern about moving children out of Europe at this point." 

For now, Mast is doing what he can to share the story of Ukrainian orphans who need our help but have also provided much inspiration. 

“It is amazing to see the resilience and spirit of these children and the caretakers that have traveled with them. It is also encouraging to see how others — especially the people of Poland — have opened their arms to them and stepped up to meet their needs. Our team at International Host Connection is committed to serving orphans long term, in any way – whether in Poland or Ukraine.” 

“I’m just a Mississippi farm boy who was blessed with the opportunity to go and help these children,” he continued. “I went to minister to them, but I think I received the blessing.” 

To learn more about International Host Connection, and their efforts in Ukraine, visit their website or Facebook page

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