It took a combination of visions,
of seeing great needs that no one was meeting.
It all came together to help Granny Sanya.
Building a Tiny Cottage
for a Tiny Babushka:
Help Granny Sanya
and Liberated Ukrainian Villages
From my location here in Eastern Europe, GoFundMe regulations do not permit me to create a campaign to raise funds for The GLOW Mission nonprofit. Instead, you'll find the story, videos, and photos for the would-be campaign on this page. Please reach out to me if you are interested in setting up a GoFundMe for The GLOW Mission nonprofit.
Granny Sanya’s Story
Greetings from Ukraine!
I’m Leslie Wilson, a semi-retired emergency manager/disaster responder carving out my role in Ukraine’s recovery. I met Granny Sanya on my first trip to Kolentsi, a sleepy village between Kyiv and Chornobyl. Maksim Dyomkin and the rest of our outreach team from Kyiv were setting up for church service and lunch. It was horribly hot, yet Granny Sanya wore heavy, hand-knitted, boot-like socks and dark coat as she entered the meeting hall, rented from the Orthodox church next door. I was sweating just looking at her. But her bright smile, even as she struggled slowly up the steps with her cane, stole my heart. I reached out to take her arm, speaking the best of my few Ukrainian phrases for the occasion. That unleashed a torrent of words pouring from her heart. They tumbled out so fast that I couldn’t understand anything. But I could tell that a tragic tale was unfolding. All I could do was look into her eyes, hold her hand, and embrace her in hugs as she leaned her head on my arm.
I learned some of her story later. Deserted by family, who stole most of her possessions, Granny Sanya was left with a small decaying shack of a house. Only an alcoholic son remained. My heart broke to hear how he treated her. She had built the house herself many years earlier. Incredible! She wasn’t even 5 feet tall. But now, all she wanted to do was leave it -- and her abusive son -- for a small, safe place.
Anywhere was better than this.
GLOW Mission and Maksim’s Babushka Village Project
The pictures and videos tell the story so much better than my feeble words. Here are a few screencaps from a most compelling video on the GLOW Ministry website. Please check it out under
The GLOW Mission is To Go Love Others Well (GLOW). This principle has been at the heart of Dar & Andrew Draper’s passionate commitment beyond America to Ukraine. From the website:
Dar and Andrew Draper founded The GLOW Mission in 2017, but have been on a mission to “go love others well” together throughout their 3 decades of marriage. . . Their heart for children expanded internationally with the decision to host an orphan from Ukraine during Christmas 2015. Now they find themselves on the adventure of a lifetime, encouraging others to join them in their mission to GLOW.
Maksim’s Ukrainian Team
Maksim Dyomkin, with a small group of like-minded Ukrainians decided to help these remote villages up near the Chernobyl Radioactive Exclusion Zone. Very little of the humanitarian aid pouring into Ukraine since February 2022 was reaching this area. Now, over a year later, they continue to make the day-long circuit drive nearly every week visiting homes of the neediest, bringing food, basic supplies, and helping to meet individual needs – from repairing damaged homes to driving these survivors to medical help.
When the Drapers met Maksim in Ukraine, they felt compelled to support the amazing work his team was doing in an area where little aid was going despite the heavy impact on these villages at the beginning of the full-scale invasion. The team shares their concern for helping children as well. Following our highly successful Wings Bible Camp this past summer in the village of Zhmiivka, new possibilities for future partnering are on the horizon.
So Maksim and team, now with the support of GLOW Mission, set a goal to find better housing as soon as possible --ideally attached to a property for a real Protestant church presence in Kolentsi. It would be the start of a safe community for other babushkas in dire situations as well. It would be a place where they could share common chores, like tending the essential garden for a reliable supply of food. Also, it would be easier for our team to help provide access to services they might need beyond their home.
Thanks to Maxim’s efforts, The GLOW Mission back in North Carolina and some supporters I was able to muster, we were able to purchase the perfect property in September, not only to establish a real church and a permanent ministry presence for Kolentsi and outreach to the other villages in the shadow of Chernobyl, but enough open land to develop the first permanent tiny cottage community for babushkas like Granny Sanya – and myself!
Since June 2022, here in Ukraine and neighboring nations, I’ve donated time and money from my own small pension, putting my emergency management and disaster response skills to work to address one of the biggest unmet needs: help for the elderly in liberated/de-occupied villages. Since August of 2022, I’ve been developing the Resilient Village Project, designed to breathe reinvigorated life into rural, liberated communities by developing low-tech, low-cost sustainable recovery methods. The goal is to create dynamic hubs for recovery to a higher level, working toward EU standards, in impoverished rural areas.
For more than a year, I sought a village where I could reside onsite, set up a Research & Development (R&D) center while partnering with impoverished villagers in their difficult recovery. The plan is to source used and local material as much as possible. These resilient, tiny cottages will be largely off-grid and feature the innovative, efficient technology of Rocket Mass Heating (RMH) systems – the state-of-the-art grandchild of the old rocket stove. Wherever possible, construction materials will be recycled war debris, all-too-readily available in many parts of Ukraine. Developing ways to recycle these huge piles of “trash” will be at the heart of the R&D lab, also serving as a green-industry incubator and entrepreneurship training center.
I heard about Maksim’s work while searching for a village. His team has been bringing the only Protestant worship service to the village of Kolentsi on Saturdays. After service they also provided a festive and healthy lunch (the only decent meal some of these elderly pensioners get to eat), supplemented by potluck dishes and flowers from the gardens of some of the more capable villagers
I was invited to join their team in June 2023.
It has totally changed the course of my life.
After 18 years in disaster response, over 30 years before that as IT specialist, island hermit, and homeschool mom I hardly recognize the person I was before disasters became the driving force in my life.
If you can add 1+1 to get 2, you’re probably thinking, “Why Leslie?”
“Because no one else is doing it!”
That’s my usual flippant response. The truth is, I believe my entire life has been leading up to this: the greatest challenge I’ve ever faced.
When I first arrived in Ukraine-at-war, I felt I was home.
For the first time since my marriage – and storybook life on an island in Lake Superior – ended, I feel drawn to have a home again, one even tinier than the 24x24 cottage my husband & I built. I hope to spend the rest of my days here in Ukraine, making the Resilient Village vision a reality throughout Ukraine as the war fades away and thousands of villages lie in ruins. The main help, of course, will go to the cities. Villagers are used to fending for themselves. But this disaster of incredible dimensions demands more out-of-the-box thinking, more support, and more planning for an even better future.
That’s my crazy goal.
I don’t have time to get old! But I do want to raise up a leadership team to take the idea and run with it -- as Ukrainians are so capable of doing! Beginning in December, I’ll be living first in the nearby town of Ivankiv which serves as a hub for the Chernobyl region villages: from local residents of Ivankiv, Kolentsi, and neighboring villages up to Zhmiivka where we held a rousing Bible summer camp! Elena is a dedicated English-speaking teacher I met there. Together we are planning ways to lift spirits and bring hope to the lives of the young people, the children, who have suffered so much – a future campaign! We’ll be looking for volunteers (hint!) to come in from America, Europe, and across the globe! However, the Resilient Village Project must be Ukrainian-owned and operated.
I’ll oversee Granny Sanya’s home and future cottages, gardens, everything needed for a wholistic, all-inclusive Resilient Village model, set like a jewel in the center of Kolentsi, developing enterprises to benefit the economy and quality of life throughout the villages and region. Permanent, lovingly designed cottages with traditional Ukrainian village features. No better way to be certain the project is viable and your money well used than by being there daily to oversee the development while helping to care for and minister to this precious population.
Photos traditional design
“Babushka Leslie!” I was nearly knocked over by a happy-huggy bunch of Ukrainian village kids. “Babushka” was my Hungarian grandma’s name for the flowery headscarves she always wore to church. I rebelled against the title at first, but it’s grown on me.
I’ve gained great respect and admiration for this courageous group of mostly homebound, women, many in their 80s and 90s. Most still tend their beautiful cottage gardens for food to survive. In February 2022 their poor, but tranquil world was suddenly invaded by Russian tanks advancing on Kyiv, an hour or so south. Not until the following month did they regain their freedom. Only then did the horrors of what they endured come to light. Many still don’t speak about those days.
Hub for Villages in the Shadow of Chernobyl
Delays in funding the work have pushed the first house and heating builds into winter. It will be necessary to begin in the better-equipped nearby town of Ivankiv. Long and narrow Kolentsi consists of one main road (both churches on it), a handful of connecting streets, and an aging population of less than 500. No stores. Not even a Starbucks or McDonalds ☹. There is a small lumber mill that I hope we can partner with in the future as villagers get to know us. Building community relations, beyond our babushka-powered church, is high priority. Many villages are emptied of all but these elderly pensioners and the few who can glean some income in these remote areas, especially in a nation at war. Helping to build the economy throughout the region is paramount to bringing life back to these many ghost villages. Closer to the front lines are many villages so devastated that they may never be rebuilt. Creating vibrant small communities for those displaced villagers could help make this region – so close to the capital Kyiv – pivotal for the nation’s recovery.
We will source used and local materials as much as possible. These resilient cottages will be largely off-grid. Some will include materials salvaged from damaged homes. The vision leads far beyond the hamlet of Kolentsi. War-destroyed remains of gutted residential areas litter nearly the entire nation. We want to show a cleaner alternative to the large-scale bulldozing and clearing of debris to landfills so that brand-new, expensive materials will need to be sourced and purchased. Sorting and recycling on location for rural areas is the foundation of the Resilient Village project that I plan to share across the nation as we prove its merit.
Where Your Money Goes
The First Tiny Cottage
Granny Sanya’s home: Maximum Cost: $6,000
Future Cottages: $2000 - $6000
Since the long-term plan is to build these homes from as much recycled war rubble as possible, the cost will decrease as we establish locations near debris fields in which to “shop”.
Where to Follow the Work
In fact, much of this type of work could be started today. All across Ukraine. During the year-long search for a village, I turned my efforts to gathering the needed knowledge on my website and Linked-In colleagues. Casting the vision with hundreds of videos, photos, and stories since Summer of 2022:
Lifting lives in liberated villages of Ukraine:
Public Telegram Channels:
Maksim and Dar, co-founder of The GLOW Mission, post frequently on Facebook (I do not):
But it takes a real live project -- successfully working in a village -- where people can come to check out, for the news media to broadcast, for the needed publicity to see others adopt and adapt the Resilient Village concept.
I’ll be brushing the dust off my freelance writing and website-building skills (any IT people out there?) as time permits. I have so many photos, videos, and stories to share! Most are on my public Telegram journal channel for now. Many more to come in the exciting future ahead!
You’ll literally be able to follow the progress on your investment from a growing list of resources as you help the main work finally get up and running.
My dream is that some of you will come help with the building and other projects around our villages. My college days at Indiana University were spent in the picturesque hills of Brown County, visiting endless country markets and festivals. Later, our family cottage was just a ferry ride away from Bayfield Wisconsin, home of the world-famous Bayfield Apple Festival. Entire economies revolved around such events. I dream of starting similar activities in this land of fairytale cottages nestled in ancient, well-tended gardens with their many fruit trees, vineyards, and farm animals.
You’ll love it! Oh, please plan to come and share in the bountiful harvests of revitalized villages, thanks to your contributions to our Resilient Villages of Ukraine!
I sure know how to dream, don’t I? Well, I also know how to pour the blood, sweat, and tenacity into making dreams a reality.
But this is my biggest dream ever.
I cannot do it without your help.
The missiles are striking.
Infrastructure is at risk again.
if you’re starving for more detail, there are videos to cure that!
Lifting lives in liberated villages of Ukraine:
Maksim’s Team + Babushka Power!
They are on the ground now, doing what work they can., planning an official opening for Christmas! They’re eager to build but lack the funds to move forward. They need your help now.
So, Let’s Start Partnering!
Words of Support & Encouragement Needed!
Share your ideas, discuss volunteer possibilities, or offer words of support.
Support Our Work Through GLOW Mission
100% of the money you donate to The GLOW Mission will be sent quickly to Maksim. You’ll receive acknowledgement of your contribution and recognition in a special project we’re planning to cement your relationship to our Ukrainian villagers and team! Meantime, you can watch your funds at work on Maksim’s Facebook page and my Telegram channel listed above.
Donations can be made via the
link just above the must-see video:
Send Checks to:
The Glow Mission
1210 Klondale Ave
Kannapolis, NC 28081
Each donor receives an acknowledgment for the donation. We will plan for Resilient Village to have a special monument of thanks, naming each of you who make this life-changing, nation-shaping project a reality. Stay tuned for updates and feel free to share your ideas. YOU are as much a part of this community as the people who live here! Like me😊 I look forward to meeting many of you here, someday soon, I hope!
The GLOW Mission is recognized by the IRS under Article 501(c)3. Every gift is tax-deductible
Thank you, friends and partners – new and old –
for your support and partnership to make this vision a reality!