© 2023 90.7 WMFE. All Rights Reserved.
Public Media News for Central Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

CEO of children's nonprofit says staff in Ukraine face 'serious, severe, very close threat'

Back in Central Florida Monday night, Shawn Sullivan, left, spoke with WMFE's Joe Byrnes.
Back in Central Florida Monday night, Shawn Sullivan, left, spoke with WMFE's Joe Byrnes.

Shawn Sullivan leads the faith-based nonprofit Mission 823, which helps at-risk children throughout Ukraine.

Back home in Central Florida, he spoke about what his co-workers are seeing there as Russia invades the Eastern European country.

The sights and sounds of war

"A portion of our staff, our administrative staff," Sullivan said, "is trapped in Kyiv and are within earshot in eyesight of missile strikes and artillery fire."

Other staff members and friends evacuated from Kyiv and are out west near Poland.

"They have also experienced kind of house-shaking, within-eyesight missile strikes and explosions, artillery fire that far west," Sullivan said. "But they are in a much safer location and are currently engaged in refugee transportation shelter and relief, transport to the border if possible."

Heartbreaking stories

Sullivan says many of their friends are under "serious, severe, very close threat."

"I had a young man who manages an organization that serves over 500 handicapped, wheelchair-bound people in Kyiv alone, and he called me twice now from the basement of the kindergarten where they're trapped with 26 people who are wheelchair-bound. And with tears streaming, begging for his life, just begged us to come and get him and take him out of that place so that he could go to America."

Sullivan says his language teacher -- he speaks Russian and can understand Ukrainian -- fled to the Polish border with her young son and her husand.

"And he was turned away at the border," Sullivan said, "because he's of fighting age. There's a mandatory draft. So families are being separated on a daily basis. ... Millions of people are telling those kinds of stories right now."

Anger, sadness and pride

Sullivan said seeing Ukraine stand up to a Russian invasion fills him with anger, sadness and pride.

He said: "There is zero provocation whatsoever for a nation neighbor like Russia to cross the borders into Ukraine a peace-loving, freedom-seeking, very fast-developing, technologically friendly, very generous country to be attacked in an unprovoked fashion like that is just, it's so maddening to try to get your head around that it just makes me boil.

"It's just, I'm just so angry."

He also feels "absolute, gut-wrenching sadness," Sullivan said, "because we've worked so hard right alongside, shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukrainian people to build the most beautiful culture and place and country that I have ever experienced. I've lived all over the world.

"And working for 22 years to try to make improvements to that scenario, and then to see literally overnight, some monster destroy this life that they've built together is just heart-wrenching."

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is a "warrior," he said, and an "absolute hero. ... I'm really, really proud of Ukrainian people. They're just amazing, amazing people."

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.
90.7 WMFE relies on donors like you. Your support allows us to provide independent, trustworthy journalism and fact-based content. Show your support today by contributing on a monthly basis or making a single online donation.