The Kiwi Connection helps war horses in Ukraine and traumatized children

Margie McCallister of Rotorua in Ishmael, Ukraine in September.  She said she was humbled by the courage of the people she met in the country.
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Margie McCallister of Rotorua in Ishmael, Ukraine in September. She said she was humbled by the courage of the people she met in the country.

When Margie McCallister saw the smiles on the faces of war-weary Ukrainian children riding horses, she knew she had to support her, even from the other side of the world.

The woman in Rotorua aims to raise $10,000 for a Ukrainian couple who are setting up a riding school for children traumatized by the ongoing Russian conflict after seeing firsthand the calming effect the gentle giants have on children.

It was an experience McCallister said left her humbled and determined to help.

McCallister started the Give a Little page after visiting the war-torn country in September with her son, Scott, and his partner, Tanya, a native of Ukraine.

She said she visited the town of Ishmael, where Tania’s mother opened a school for refugees fleeing areas under Russian attack.

“I wanted to help her,” she said.

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“During my stay, we arranged to take children from the school to visit the horses that were rescued from the Russian bombing in Melitopol.

“It was a magical day, all the children took turns riding the four beautiful horses and then the owners put on a horse riding show which the children cheered.”

McCallister said she was well aware that Andre and Eve were just two of the thousands of people whose “lives were turned upside down by the war”, and that it was impossible to help everyone.

“But I am so grateful to all who have donated to this cause and to know that there will now be a Kiwi connection to this couple and this school for the rest of the war and beyond.”

Polina Nikolaev was one of the homeless children who got to experience horseback riding, something she described as soothing to her soul.

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Polina Nikolaev was one of the homeless children who got to experience horseback riding, something she described as soothing to her soul.

McAllister also spoke to horse owners Eva and André Lenweber about their “miraculous” escape from Russian-occupied Melitopol.

Andrey said they tried to flee for a month before spending three days on the road, moving through areas “under constant bombardment.”

He said they had to escape in an open truck, using ropes to secure the horses, and that they faced near-constant harassment at Russian checkpoints.

“They were saying we’ll let you through, but ukrops [an offensive term for Ukrainians] He said.

They would pick up every little thing, check all the clothes we had, our documents, our phones, absolutely everything. “

The horses spent three days and nights on the truck, he said, “passed by bombing in Kherson.”

“There was a four-kilometer line of cars running away just like us, and 200 meters from us was a Grad missile system firing eight to ten missiles every five minutes. We would stand there for hours. It was terrifying.”

Eva and Andre Lenweber and their four horses spent three days on the road escaping their hometown Melitopol

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Eva and Andre Lenweber and their four horses spent three days on the road escaping their hometown Melitopol

Some people were jumping out of their cars, he said, “covering their children with their bodies.”

Once they reached the relative safety of Ishmael, he said, it took six weeks for the horses to fully recover from their ordeal.

Now, as winter approaches, the biggest challenge is finding hay for the horses.

“The hardest thing,” he said, “is the food.”

“The place here is very expensive, especially compared to pre-war times. Prices have doubled.”

He also said their horses need medicine, vitamins and antibiotics, and they also hope to use the money to rescue more animals from Russian-occupied lands.

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