EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) — An Evansville native is back in Ukraine this month, hoping to spread holiday cheer to a country ravaged by war. Dr. John Pfefferle first went to Ukraine in March to do dental work. This time, he decided to switch the dental gear for a Kevlar vest and red suit. Two weeks before Christmas, the retired dentist went back to the war zone.
“The question I get asked the most is if I am a real American. When a little child asked me that and I said I am an American Santa Claus, his life hit a pinnacle I think,” he says.
Dr. Pfefferle is headquartered in Ternopol, Ukraine, which is about three hours east of Kyiv.
“There is one town that is getting pummeled by the Russians. They are just not leaving anything so the Ukrainians cannot get any of it. We still get air sirens here. People have apps on their phones and when it goes off, you are required to get children to safety,” he says.
This visit, he has been focused on helping orphans close to the front line and hospice residents displaced by the war. In the first week, he helped Smolin Ministries hand out coats, hats and scarves. During his second week, he headed out to reclaimed Ukrainian cities that are closer to the front lines.
“You know, some of these kids may have lost their parents with one missile in the last three or four months, and their world is pretty upside down. My role here is to give their little brains a break,” he says.
The third week, he put on the Kevlar vest and Santa suit, and took on the role of “The American Santa.”
“I wish everyone could have the Christmas that I am having because to see the looks on the children’s faces, and the tears on the young mom’s faces and the neck breaking hugs of the babushka,” he says.