SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – A New Mexico man recently learned his lineage traces back to Ukraine. Pushing him to give back to those stuck as Russia continues its invasion.
“It was really two weeks ago I found out, ‘oh wow, I’m Ukrainian,'” said Kermit Cole. Cole has been living in Santa Fe for around 10 years now but his lineage traces back to Ukraine. Documents show his grandpa immigrated from Ukraine to the United States.
“I figured out what the town was,” said Cole. He realized this around the same time Russia invaded Ukraine, so he wanted to get involved any way he could. Hopping on Airbnb and looking at rooms for rent in the village his grandfather was from.
“I messaged all of the Airbnb hosts in Kovel,” said Cole. That’s where he found the Sonarsens. “Galena, with her son, started telling me what they were doing and they had such a spirit to it,” said Cole.
So he started renting rooms. Putting $3,000 dollars in their pockets to pay for supplies and aid to people in the community.
“They told me they were having air raids nine times a day,” said Cole. But Cole wanted to do more than just give out money.
“I invited them to have a chat,” said Cole. So he’s built a relationship with the family.
“The first time I talked to them they said they were in the basement and they couldn’t turn the lights on,” said Cole.
Now, they talk on Zoom every day, using the Airbnb app so it can be translated in real-time. “It feels physical, to say what do you need to somebody’s whose eyes I am looking into,” said Cole. He’s hoping others will want to do the same.
“If we can get enough people doing this that everybody that has an internet connection in Ukraine has somebody looking at them from the outside world so they know they haven’t become this abstraction,” said Cole.
Cole is inspired by who he has met so far. “They are just so defiant,” he said. “I asked them the question on whether it was safe to name them or name the town and they just said they are not afraid of anything, ‘we want the world to know.'”
Cole is working with the Mayor of Santa Fe and the Mayor of Kovel to see if they can make the two places sister cities.