PORTLAND, Ore. – PTFC for Peace, a charity match benefiting UNICEF USA’s efforts to support children and families affected by the war in Ukraine, brought together a host of Portland Timbers and Thorns FC players and staff, fans, corporate partners and more to activate a community and raise $500,000 dollars and counting.
But for young siblings Bohdan and Milana Pechinka, ages seven and 14, respectively, who attended Wednesday night’s game as special guests, the game was a welcome and temporary respite from their difficult journey away from their home and the war in Ukraine.
A journey that was supported by a burgeoning community that crossed borders and involved family and friends.
The Pechinka kids, along with their mother, Olga, fled Ukraine at the start of the Russian invasion earlier this winter, making it to Warsaw, Poland. Men aged 18 to 60 were required to stay to help fight or assist the defensive effort, and so their father remained behind.
Once in Poland, the Pechinkas received help from Mike and Nancy Teskey – former Portland residents who are now retired and live in Warsaw. The couple opened their home to the Pechinkas and helped them start a visa process to try to get them to the U.S. Meanwhile, in Vancouver, Wash., the Pechinka children’s grandmother, Nataliya Quandt, was working to help them find a way out.
Through a supportive network that connected Portland and Vancouver residents, friends and acquaintances in Warsaw, and extended family, the Pechinka children received visas to come to the U.S. – Milana traveling first while Bohdan arrived shortly after to stay with their grandmother. Their mother remained in Poland, with work continuing to get her a visa of her own.
Nataliya Quandt explained both the difficulty of the sad conflict’s effect on her grandchildren but also the strength of people working together to help her family.
“This community helped us so much,” she shared. “That, for me, it can be described only in some sign of hope after what happened. Because (the war) was a tragedy. When we first figured out the news, in February, we were stuck in the world. We didn't know what to do. For two weeks, we didn't know, until help came.
“The people [here] helped us tremendously. Because I just kept Skyping with my grandkids and they were eager to come with me because when the bombing began in Kyiv, they were scared. The kids were scared.”
- DONATE: UNICEFUSA.org/PTFC
When the Timbers and Thorns announced the PTFC for Peace charity match, a host of corporate partners joined together to contribute directly to UNICEF USA. One of those partners, Umpqua Bank, shared the news with their staff and one of those Umpqua staffers was Erin Quandt – step-daughter-in-law to Nataliya and who had also been part of the community of people working to bring the children to the U.S. With the two of them having arrived, Erin reached out to the club through Umpqua with a special ask of the teams.
On Wednesday, that burgeoning community was able to welcome Bohdan and Milana at the match. Both were treated to a VIP experience at the game with a visit to the field to watch warmups, a meeting with Timber Joey to help him hang his scarves on the Victory Log, and the group was able to watch the match from a suite at the game.
The Pechinka children’s journey has been whirlwind and emotional. Bohdan only arrived a little over a week ago and while both have visited their grandmother and extended family in Vancouver before, their current situation is obviously far from settled. The PTFC for Peace match made for a welcome event.
Tanya Zakrevska, the children’s aunt who also lives in Vancouver, spoke about what the night meant to Milana and Bohdan.
“Milana is a great fan of soccer. She played in Kyiv,” she said of her niece who was clad in a Thorns kit and scarf. “She visited us in the United States two times, and she was also playing in our Vancouver team.”
With the night’s Timbers and Thorns players donning special kits for their respective coed squads – one for Team Blue and one for Team Yellow – the significance of the colors matching the Ukrainian flag was not lost on the two kids.
“(Bohdan and Milana) were also excited about those native colors,” said Zakrevska. “For them, this combination of yellow and blue was special because they know what it means. They know that the blue is the sky, the yellow is the wheat. They said, ‘oh my gosh, this is our flag! This is our symbol!’
“(Tonight is) a kind of combination of their hobby – football – and all this heart-melting atmosphere of how people here have invited them and take care of them.”