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Fernandina Beach 'Santa' prepares to head to Ukraine with a bag of gifts and Kevlar under his big red suit

John Pfefferle is a retired dentist heading to Ukraine to bring supplies and comfort. He has been going on mission trips for 24 years.

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. — There's always that one bag that weighs a ton on a long trip. 

For John Pfefferle, it's one of several bags that are packed to the brim with handmade blankets, handwarmers, flashlights and other everyday items. 

Sitting next to the bags is a glistening white beard and a big red hat. 

Pfefferle is a retired pediatric dentist and has been doing ministry dental work in countries around the world since 1998. 

Around the holiday's he'd dress up as Santa Claus for the kids and will do so again this year for kids in Ukraine. 

His most recent trip to Ukraine was in March, one month after the Russian invasion. 

"I said, 'have you ever seen a Ukrainian Princess before?' And they go 'no', and I say close your eyes and I put a mirror in front of their face, and I say okay now open your eyes and they go oh. They're very emotive," Pfefferle said. 

Pfefferle said the kids showed emotions of joy and horror. 

"I had them all draw pictures, and I look at the pictures, and a lot of them had rockets and bleeding people and if they're drawing this, that's the land they're living in their mind. I'd like to take them out of that land, if maybe for an hour," he said. 

Pfefferle will soon be going back as St. Nick, visiting orphanages near the front lines of the Russia-Ukraine War.

"Behind my acting there's a heart that's breaking," Pfefferle said.

He's well aware of the danger that awaits, but if it means giving kids visions of Santa's sleigh instead of rockets in the sky, it was all worth it.

"Three-year-olds shouldn't have to worry about being blown up, they shouldn't have to worry about looking like the person in the hole with them that's missing their abdominal cavity. If we can just distract them for a moment, I think we've done a good thing," Pfefferle said.

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