The Opal Vivara Gang
David introduced me to Elena after a last night at the opera. He left Odessa almost immediately, bound for Canada. In his continued desire to serve the people of Ukraine, he quickly set up his own ‘Gofundme’ page with the rather catchy title - ‘The Every-Day-Hero Fund for Ukraine’. You can find it here;
That is what Elena is I suppose - a hero (heroine). Nevertheless, in her inimitable style she instantly proceeded to insult me on WhatsApp. “He is not interested’ she complained, questioning my dedication to the cause. I had committed the unforgiveable sin of postponing my attendance on the Hospital Food Run to the following week so that I could moved into and furnish my new flat. Sufficiently shamed I attended the next delivery. Not only can she be rude and demanding, Elena is inspiring, ridiculously spontaneous and shot through with compassion and kindness. A very weird mix. Later, and discovering from me a possible source of free footwear from a company in York, Elena embarked upon a frazzled trip across the continent, Odessa to York and back picking up further donations en-route. Here is a montage of that trip taken with her beloved snails!
A brief response from Elena!
When I first saw Gary, I immediately liked him. It was clear that he was a very kind and pleasant person. After all, he is an Englishman and it is known that English people can be snobbish and use incomprehensible language, Gary was not an exception. After all, a few years ago, his ancestors conquered half the world, and the English can afford to talk to the rest like idiots. From the first day, Gary and I found a common language; he would use high-level phrases in the language of Shakespeare, and I would try to catch familiar words from a cascade of complex subordinate sentences. I pretended to understand by smiling and nodding.
Thanks to our high level of mutual understanding, we developed an efficient and cohesive team. I am grateful to Gary for being one of the best teachers in my life.
Despite Elena’s annoyance and impatience at Dima’s loading skills I noticed how helpful our new taxi driver was. In the hospital he was quietly willingly and happy to join us handing out food. In my own style, I asked the relevant questions worked out a deal and asked Dima to meet us each week to complete the run. Nowadays, he is probably the most reliable, stable and steadfast member of the gang. When asking for his phone number and full name he told me ‘Dima Opel Vivara’ assuming we needed to know the make of his minibus. What a great name for a local NGO - maybe he can become its first country director. All in due course.
Elena introduced us to yet another volunteer - Abe. He is a spiritually super-charged, ex-mormon who insists on everyone’s right to personal dignity. He has even set up his own charity based on that singular human demand. Abe is pretty sensitive. He is a sucker for a sob-story! Narrate the passion of Christ to him or some random injustice committed along the front lines and there is every chance he will tear up in front of you. Conversely, if you cannot find him washing the dishes, shifting boxes and stacking pallets, he is probably comforting some distressed patient in a quiet corner, peeling one hundred bananas alone in the kitchens, traveling in and out of the war front setting up programmes conscientiously serving the most vulnerable and forgotten. Though instinctively intellectual he will drop his theories in a moment to help you out. He is a light in dark places.
Alisa worked for a brief time with me at the International Medical Corps but her mind was always elsewhere. She had so much going on in her own life and alongside an abiding passion for animals. Consequently, our runs to the hospital would inevitably end up back near the Privoz market, over the road, in the Odessa Zoo. Our task; to buy fruit, seeds and vegetables to feed the Internally Displaced Animals (IDAs as opposed to IDPs - people). A variety of parrots, budgerigars, other small birds, marmosets, small monkeys and exotic rodents were left with the keepers when people fled the city back in February 2022. Alisa took it upon herself, joined with Elena and began raising funds and giving assistance to the beleaguered staff who stayed with their animals. We also get the chance each week to see for free all the larger mammals, lions, flamingos, armadillos, crocodiles, snakes and bats.
[Add some videos from the zoo]