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Fernandina Beach 'Santa' returns home after month long mission trip in Ukraine

John Pfefferle dressed up as Santa and delivered donated clothes and essentials to people in Ukraine. When he returned home, he found more donations on his porch.

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. — John Pfefferle watched as Ukranian kids danced to blaring music in a basement. 

To anyone else it looks like a dance party, but it's far from it. It's a bomb shelter in Ukraine.

"It was like another air raid I don't think they totally discount it, but they've learned to live with it and they're trying to achieve normalcy," said Pfefferle, a Fernandina Beach resident.

First Coast News spoke with Pfefferle in December before he left for his mission trip to Ukraine.

He spent a month in Ukraine with a big red hat and sack of donated clothes and everyday items.

"Dolls, one asked for their daddy back he had been killed. That ripped my heart," Pfefferle said. "Just like American kids would they still had that child wonder brain, so they were able to get into the moment, and even if it was not ever going to happen, at least thinking about it again it blacked out some of the darkness in their life."

Dressed as Santa Claus, Pfefferle went as far east as Odessa, about 50 miles from active combat.

"Those cities are non-recognizable it almost looks like a nuclear war ground, no leaves on the trees, no buildings standing, dead bodies." Pfefferle said.

The same day he left, Pfefferle says the city was shelled by Russian forces.

When he returned home, more donations greeted him on his porch reminding him that is mission is far from over.

"It's the hardest part I get on the airplane... when I'm looking out the window getting ready for final takeoff ... why do I get to leave? Why was I not born in Ukraine? Why this why that?" Pfefferle said. 

The tastes and smells of war are a part of him, but with it is a burning desire to return and give hope to more people in Ukraine. 

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