Southern California

Corona Community Bands Together to Donate Thousands to Siblings Forced From Ukraine

“The community of Corona has wrapped their arms around us,” said Burns, wiping away tears. “The school, everyone helped us ... and we needed it!”

NBC Universal, Inc.

Two young siblings who are now adjusting to a new life in Corona are among the millions of refugees who fled Ukraine since Russia invaded their country Feb. 24. 

The date also happens to be the birthday of one of the siblings, Thomas, who turned 6 years old. That day, he and his sister Rita, 8, fled Ukraine. Pictures shared by the family show Thomas clutching his father, Nicholas, at the border. The siblings’ parents decided to stay behind to help in the humanitarian efforts.

“I pray for them. My grandchildren are safe. My son is still there,” said Susan Burns, the children’s grandmother.

“I think about him everyday. Every minute.”

Burns traveled to Poland to pick up her grandchildren and is now, along with her husband, Steven, the primary caregiver to Rita and Thomas.

At a park in Corona recently, NBCLA met the Burns' who said the children are adjusting to their new life in a new country, which has not been easy. 

Rita said she misses her parents, their family business and their pet. 


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“We have, there, a cafe. We have a hamster there,” said Rita. “I live there all my life. We have a very big house.”

The siblings are without the comforts of home, but they are not without a community. 

A friend of the family posted a message on the Nextdoor app asking for a few donations for the children. 

“I thought, if I could get some clothing, toys for the kids, so they won’t have to spend money on it,” said Dorrie Chacon, the donation organizer. 

A few donations quickly ballooned into hundreds from all over the Inland Empire. Chacon collected bags of clothes, school supplies, toys and she estimates thousands of dollars in gift cards. 

“The community of Corona has wrapped their arms around us,” said Burns, wiping away tears. “The school, everyone helped us .. and we needed it!”

The family said they take things day by day. The kids say they love their new school and both are now enrolled in tae kwon do, a martial arts which they practiced in Ukraine. 

Rita and Thomas have no idea when they will see their parents and home again. They do have an entire community in the Inland Empire who has shown it will continue to welcome them with open arms.

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