HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — While you’re grabbing a drink or bite to eat at Pour Girls Restaurant in Hampton, you may notice the Ukrainian flag hanging high above the bar.
For the owner, Iryna Patterson, it’s a reminder of home.
“I feel guilty. I feel maybe if I moved there, I wouldn’t be here. Maybe I could have made some changes — I would be there fighting for my country as well,” said Patterson.
While she’s physically running her two businesses, her heart and mind are constantly thinking of her family in Ukraine.
“My sister said it started with the sirens, just kind of like emergency, and everyone was worried but no one thought it was going to get to this point. Then a day later, the bombing started… When the bombing started being so frequent and close to home, and on top of it, my niece started getting nose bleeds from the bombing and shaking and powder. Yes, that was the final straw for my sister,” said Patterson.
When Russian forces began invading Ukraine, her mother, sister, and niece who live in Kyiv made the dangerous journey to Poland. She says they slept in train stations and bomb and homeless shelters. When they got close to the border, they had to walk five miles in the cold. Her mother, sister, and niece have since made it to Italy.
She says her dad and cousins aren’t allowed to leave the country in case they’re needed to fight.
“Both of my uncles and cousins — who are 19, 20-year-old kids — in my mind they had to take guns, weapons and just go to defend [their] country,” said Patterson.
She says she won’t be at peace until the war is over. In the meantime, she’s doing all she can to help, starting with a fundraiser to send humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
The idea was brought to her by another local business owner, Alex Cormier. He owns The Local Print Shoppe in Virginia Beach.
“My whole mother’s side is still over there and obviously I’m not in the best shape. I’m here in America I can’t go fight. So, what can I do? I can do sales,” said Cormier.
He’ll be selling stickers and T-shirts at the event to raise money.
They’re hoping the community will step up and answer their call for help.