Latino faith leaders want to send ‘soldiers of God’ to Poland to help refugee Ukrainians

They also hope to establish help for refugees in neighboring Romania — and even venture into war-torn Ukraine.

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Veteran Esteban Burgoa, at a news conference on March 15, 2022, discussing plans to travel to Poland to help refugees, and describes the trauma kits they will be handing out.

Veteran Esteban Burgoa, at a news conference earlier this month, discussed plans to travel to Poland to help refugees, and describes the trauma kits they will be handing out.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Esteban Burgoa spoke in a rapid cadence as he held up a trauma kit and delivered what he believed was an urgent message.

“Right now, bombs are dropping, and we need to get trauma kits like these to the people of Ukraine,” said Burgoa, a U.S. Navy veteran and activist. “We need to send our soldiers of God and they will be on the ground to help the Ukrainian people.”

Burgoa made his remarks earlier this month inside the Northwest Side storefront where he runs his real estate business. With him were about a dozen faith leaders who had gathered to announce plans to head to Poland soon to hand-deliver humanitarian aid to Ukrainian refugees.

But they aren’t just delivering items — they want to establish soup kitchens throughout the country for refugees in the coming weeks. They also hope to expand their refugee assistance to neighboring Romania — and even venture into war-torn Ukraine.

Before they can begin that humanitarian mission, though they said they need Chicago’s Latino and immigrant communities to step up.

The goal is to raise $10,000 worth of aid; items can be dropped off at Burgoa’s storefront, 4722 W. Belmont Ave. They especially need diapers and canned food — no clothes, please.

They also are asking for money, which they can use to buy other aid, including those trauma kits — essentially heavy-duty first aid kits for more extreme situations.

“The guardian angels are the people here in the United States — specifically here at home — because they are the ones helping us with the funds,” Burgoa said. “The purpose is to go over there and help people out. Hopefully, we can save some lives.”

The gathered faith leaders acknowledged they are still in the beginning stages of organizing their efforts, though they hope to leave for Eastern Europe sometime in April. They are holding a fundraiser on Saturday in the McKinley Park neighborhood.

When Russia launched the invasion, the coalition of pastors assembled $5,000 worth of goods and quickly shipped them to Ukraine.

“We are calling on the Latino community and the immigrant community to support us,” said Rev. Jose Landaverde, of the Faith, Life and Hope Mission. “We need them to be in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.”

Landaverde said they also will help Russians in need if they come across them in their mission because a manipulative Russian government — not the Russian people — are to blame for the war.

“We are here to ask for peace,” Landaverde said.

Landaverde said they have been speaking with organizations already on the ground in Ukraine but wouldn’t share details of how or when more goods will be shipped out. Burgoa said sharing that information publicly puts people at risk.

“We operate like a military and we have a track record of it,” Landaverde said. “Like three years ago, we sent to Mexico eight tons of food, water and medication. Also after Hurricane Katrina, we sent like seven tons of medical supplies and everything.”

Landaverde said they have been in communications with an archdiocese in southern Poland and with a Jesuit ministry working in both Poland and Ukraine.

But they still need more volunteers, he said.

Burgoa’s wife, Mila Burgoa, a native of Ukraine, also is trying to help, by launching a GoFundMe to raise money for her home country.

“This is horrible that today in 2022, people can come into a country, kill your kids, kill your mom, kill your parents, and there is nothing you can do,” Mila Burgoa said. “We are here to unite all the Ukrainian community and different communities together.”

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