Using the bright yellow sunflower, the national flower of Ukraine, a Joplin florist hopes to help people in that war-wracked country.
Higdon Florist, located at 201 E. 32nd St. in Joplin, is running a fundraiser in which buyers can add sunflowers to an arrangement for $5 per stem. Proceeds from the added sunflowers will go to Samaritan’s Purse to help current relief efforts in Ukraine.
“We are trying to raise awareness of what’s going on in the Ukraine region,” said Lance Hoopai, owner of Higdon Florist.
The war in Ukraine has produced the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II. More than 2 million refugees have fled Ukraine into neighboring countries since late February, according to Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization.
“You have a situation where there’s a lot of suffering, a lot of pain,” Hoopai said. “Politics aside, we have to be able to reach out because people are hurting. There’s got to be something we can do. If we can do something to help, I think we should.”
The war continued unabated Monday as Russia launched its long-feared, full-scale offensive to take control of Ukraine’s east, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced.
“Now we can already state that the Russian troops have begun the battle for the Donbas, for which they have been preparing for a long time,” he said in a video address. Zelenskyy said a “significant part of the entire Russian army is now concentrated on this offensive.”
The Donbas is Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking industrial heartland in the east, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for the past eight years and have declared two independent republics that have been recognized by Russia.
In recent weeks, the Kremlin declared the capture of the Donbas its main goal of the war after its attempt to storm Kyiv failed.
“No matter how many Russian troops are driven there, we will fight,” Zelenskyy vowed. “We will defend ourselves. We will do it every day.”
The announcement from Zelenskyy came as Russia bombarded the western city of Lviv and numerous other targets across Ukraine in what appeared to be an intensified bid to grind down the country’s defenses. At the same time, the Kremlin continued building up its forces in the east.
At least seven people were reported killed in the missile strikes on Lviv, a city close to the Polish border that has seen only sporadic attacks during almost two months of war and has become a haven for civilians fleeing the fighting elsewhere. To the Kremlin’s increasing anger, Lviv has also become a major gateway for NATO-supplied weapons.
In other developments, a few thousand Ukrainian troops, by Russia’s estimate, remained holed up at a mammoth steel mill in Mariupol, the last known pocket of resistance in the devastated southern port city.
In addition, Zelenskyy submitted a filled-out questionnaire in the first step toward obtaining membership in the European Union — a desire that has been a source of tension with Moscow for years.
‘A natural fit’
Seeing reports of suffering was the motivation behind the fundraiser, Hoopai said. His family has always been mission minded, participating in mission trips all over the world. The store also has sold products made by refugees.
Hoopai reached out to Samaritan’s Purse because his family was familiar with the organization’s work from previous projects. Samaritan’s Purse currently has members of its disaster assistance response team on the ground working with Ukrainian refugees in Poland and Moldova, as well as operating mobile hospitals in the region.
“It seemed like a natural fit to find if there was something we could do to help what’s going on in Ukraine,” Hoopai said.
Response for the fundraiser has surpassed Hoopai’s expectations. He said he has been grateful to the Joplin community and surrounding areas for their support and embracing the cause. Some customers have come in and ordered whole arrangements of only sunflowers to support the charity.
Hoopai plans to continue this fundraiser to the end of April. However, depending on community response, he may be open to continuing it longer. He hopes both the fundraiser and the sunflower continue to be a source of hope for the Ukrainian people.
“If you look at the Ukrainian flag, it’s blue over yellow,” Hoopai said. “It’s a sky over a field. The bright yellow of the sunflower and the yellow on the flag bring out that sense of life.”