TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Miss Ukraine International 2021 was in Florida competing in a beauty pageant and raising funds for her foundation when Russia invaded her beloved country.
The rapidly-intensifying war meant Elena Dunder couldn’t return home. Instead, she stayed in Palm Beach County and began working on raising awareness of the violence erupting in Ukraine.
Dunder says she lives in a constant state of stress and fear, not knowing if a phone call to her loved ones in her hometown of Odesa will be the last.
“How would you feel when the bombs are flying over your head? When you’re sitting and waiting on the sound of the sirens? And then you have to hide in the shelters? It’s a big trauma. It’s a big psychological trauma for a lot of people,” Dunder said, wearing her Miss Ukraine International sash and crown.
Odesa was the latest target of the Russian forces on Monday. A missile turned buildings into rubble and claimed the life of a teen boy.
Dunder’s family and loved ones are safe.
“It’s very hard not to be there but at the same time, I feel the advantage of being outside. That way I can involve more people from abroad,” Dunder told News Channel 8’s Brittany Muller.
While in Florida, Dunder is using her platform and charity, The Soul’s Beauty, to gather support and aid for the most vulnerable. Her connections with government officials in Ukraine, she says, allow her to ensure donations are going where they’re needed the most.
“We’re concentrating our help on kids, their parents and families in hotspots who cannot leave and cannot survive – and the elderly, we help them with essentials for surviving,” she said.
Dunder believes her title of Miss Ukraine gives her the responsibility to educate those outside of Ukraine on what’s truly happening during the Russian invasion.
“From the people who really live there, from my family, close friends who experience it right now, from what they’re going through, what they feel, and what they see right now,” Dunder explained. “This cruelty doesn’t make any sense, it contradicts all the human values. All the Ukrainians, they need support. They need psychological support, financial, humanitarian. We all need the support of people and countries who really understand what is freedom and what is independence.”
As the war stretches into its third month, Dunder holds on to hope that Ukrainians will once again live in peace.
“We are a very strong nation, we are very fearless, we are very brave, we are very courageous,” she said.
Dunder says her foundation will hold a donation drive in Pam Beach County sometime in May to help all those affected by the Russian missile attack in Odesa.