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Miss Ukraine International is in West Palm Beach. She is helping kids in the Black Sea city of Odesa

3rd and 4th grade students at Odessa Secondary School №61 in Odessa, Ukraine | May 2021
Courtesy of the Soul’s Beauty charity foundation
3rd and 4th grade students at Odessa Secondary School №61 in Odessa, Ukraine | May 2021

Elena Dunder is unable to return back to Odesa, Ukraine, after Russians invaded her country during her stay in Florida.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has sent some Ukrainian refugees to South Florida. Elena Dunder, Miss Ukraine International 2021, arrived in the U.S. for several events last year, months before the war broke out. Now, she can’t go back.

Dunder, much like the refugees who recently fled the war in Ukraine, has to start her life over. West Palm Beach is home now as the men and women in her family are “fighting to protect their home" in Ukraine.

Dunder, founder of a children's charitable foundation called The Soul’s Beauty, said she wants to help as many children in her hometown as possible.

“I’m very desperate. I feel like I want to go back to see my family,” Dunder said. “I wanted to go home and it’s very hard for me and very stressful time for me to realize I cannot do that. And I probably won’t be able to do that in the near time. So I’m trying to start my life from scratch over here.”

Dunder was raised in the southern city of Odesa on the Black Sea. Ukrainian officials in the region say the Russian military is setting its sights on the city, and could deploy forces there.

Dunder says her charitable foundation partners with schools and hospitals to provide resources for neglected children in Odesa. She’s planning a fundraiser for The Soul’s Beauty charitible foundation this month.

“So what we are working on right now, there are a lot of children and their families and parents who are in the hot spots and they cannot leave," Dunder said. "They cannot flee.”

President Joe Biden, in the meantime, announced a new program that will help speed the immigration process for as many as 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.

"I decided to concentrate on kids," Dunder said. "Not only kids who are sick with cancer or other diseases but also orphans and kids with disabilities."

Copyright 2022 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Wilkine Brutus is a multimedia journalist for WLRN, South Florida's NPR, and a member of Washington Post/Poynter Institute’ s 2019 Leadership Academy. A former Digital Reporter for The Palm Beach Post, Brutus produces enterprise stories on topics surrounding people, community innovation, entrepreneurship, art, culture, and current affairs.