FLORENCE, Italy — As Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, many Americans, both near and far, continue to lend a helping hand to refugees fleeing the country.
The list includes Stefanie Grassley.
Life has taken Grassley to many places, including Italy. She, her husband and two children moved to Tuscany back in 2018 after buying Castelo de Ristonchi.
Grassley said the 1,000-year-old castle has been mainly used to host events, weddings and even corporate retreats. But that all changed after the crisis in Ukraine.
"I just don't have the ability to look away, like I can't see someone struggling," said Grassley.
Grassley said she originally reached out to one of her Ukrainian friends, who had gotten married at the castle, looking for ways to help.
"When I put the information out on the website, Shelter for Ukrainians, then I was so nervous like, 'how am I going to pull this off?'" Grassley remembered.
She said her first family arrived on March 14 and they've had up to 50 Ukrainian refugees staying there at one time. Right now, Grassley said they have about 35 refugees, most being women and children as young as a year old.
Anna Vasyleska fled her home in Dnipro and is staying at the castle.
"This situation, I could not imagine a better place for us," said Vasyleska.
Vasyleska, her mom, sister and five-year-old niece have been staying at the castle for the past two weeks.
"We have all these other families from Ukraine and you know, we gather for dinners and we tried to cook some stuff for everyone and we make big tables and we have a chance to just sit down and talk and share our feelings," said Vasyleska.
Grassley got emotional when talking about some of the stories she's heard and pictures she has seen from the refugees staying at the castle.
"I've been on the verge of tears for, just, constantly because it is such a beautiful thing that they can come here and be safe and be together and build a community," said Grassley.
Grassley says she has had help along the way, from receiving donations and the local community.
"They started bringing up carloads of food and the local store brought up boxes of fresh produce," added Grassley.
The local community has also donated clothes, toys and even services, like English and Italian classes, yoga, hiking and more. Grassley said she's grateful to be able to help the refugees in their time of need.
"When I saw what was happening and like how can I help, what do I have to offer?" asked Grassley. "And I have rooms, I have space for people and a lot of people don't have that."
Grassley added they will continue to host families until the beginning of May.
You can follow updates on Castelo de Ristonchi's Instagram account @thecreatorscastle .
Grassley is looking for donations to help keep their doors open to the refugees that are currently in Italy, and more who may want to seek asylum. Anyone who can help can reach out to Grassley on her Instagram page.
Donations that are needed:
- Food and water for the refugees
- Heating in the guest rooms (the old castle is very expensive to heat)
- Laundry and cleaning supplies
- Baby supplies (diapers, baby food, etc)
This story was first reported by Chris Arnold at KSTU in Salt Lake City, Utah.