Mercer Island couple helps Ukraine with Refuse To Quit

By John Hamer, For the Reporter

Are you feeling “war fatigue” over Ukraine? Just imagine how the Ukrainians must feel.

The brutal Russian invasion of that country is now more than a year old. It may drag on for months, if not years. Many people — including some political leaders — have begun to question the West’s ongoing commitment to supply weapons and ammunition to Ukraine.

However, the need for continuing humanitarian aid is more urgent than ever. One Mercer Island couple is setting an extraordinary example for what individuals can do to help the Ukrainian people — especially women and children.

Dan and Daria Absher, with their good friends Jamie and Sue Colbourne of Bainbridge Island, established a nonprofit organization called Refuse To Quit ( to supply food, clothing, medical supplies, generators and other essential items to Ukraine. Refuse To Quit (RTQ) is now almost a year old — and has provided an extraordinary amount of assistance directly to those most in need.

“We give to about a dozen different organizations: shelters, orphanages, food kitchens, clothing centers,” said Dan Absher. “Our focus is mainly on women and children. The Russian invasion has created terrible hardships for so many people.”

RTQ was originally the idea of Jamie Colbourne, who had been an executive of several companies in the food industry. He and Dan, who runs Absher Construction Company, met through the Young Presidents Organization.

“Jamie is the inspiration behind it,” said Dan. “He saw news reports of the invasion and said we’ve got to do something. He had an epiphany.”

Colbourne is a marathon runner and “refuse to quit” was his motto. He and his wife, Sue, went to Romania in April 2022 and formed a strong bond with Nataliya Lukyanova, a Ukrainian woman who had been a business entrepreneur and was organizing aid efforts. Her husband, like almost all Ukrainian men, was not allowed to leave in case he was needed for the war effort. She has Ukrainian and Romanian passports and is fluent in both languages. They met in Bucharest and began working together.

Nataliya connected the Colbournes with people and organizations with the most urgent needs.

“She has been a Godsend,” Dan said. “She has been and continues to be invaluable to us.”

“Without Nataliya’s help it would have been nearly impossible to accomplish what we have done so far,” added Daria.

The Abshers and the Colbournes went to Romania in July 2022 and took six large duffel bags of clothing and other supplies. After several days in Bucharest, they stayed at a Romanian orphanage near the Ukrainian border, run by Cristi Dumbraveanu. Since the advent of the war, Cristi has helped coordinate relief efforts for displaced Ukrainians on both sides of the border.

Together with Nataliya and Cristi, the Colbournes and Abshers, crossed the border into Ukraine, where they delivered clothes, food and other supplies to orphanages, shelters and kitchens set up to serve displaced women and children.

“In many cases, the supplies are cheaper in Romania than they are here, and certainly easier to deliver logistically, such as a truckload of potatoes that we can deliver right away,” said Dan. “Having boots on the ground has really helped.” Cristi, and his Ukrainian counterpart, Igor, continue to coordinate relief efforts for us, purchasing and delivering food and generators, which are desperately needed because of the many power outages.

So far, RTQ has:

Donated $10,000 to “Mom Plus Me,” a charitable foundation based in Ukraine whose mission is to help children, especially orphans. The funds were used for baby food, diapers, and medicine.

Given $10,000 to City of Goodness, a Ukrainian foundation that helps homeless mothers and their children. The funds were used for housing and a car for those displaced by the war.

Purchased $12,000 worth of vegetables and supplies for refugees in and around the city of Chernivtsi, which served nearly 2,000 people in western Ukraine.

Sent an additional $12,500 for the purchase of more food and generators. Warehouses needed such staples as cooking oil and sugar because supply chains were disrupted.

Committed $20,000 to Mission Ukraine, a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded by Nataliya for the reconstruction of an aqua-therapy center at Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital in Kyiv, which was featured in a “60 Minutes” report last December. The pool will provide therapeutic rehabilitation for children.

Supplied chocolates for a children’s holiday party. “We brought a little sunshine into the children’s lives,” said Daria.

Sent $4,000 to purchase self-heating cans of soup and coffee and plan to send more. “Many parts of Ukraine are without power or experiencing intermittent power,” Daria noted.

What’s next? The Abshers and Colbournes plan to revisit this spring or summer and deliver more food and supplies. They are still raising funds. Other Mercer Islanders have stepped up to help. Allen Vizzutti, world-renowned trumpet player, inspired by the effort, wrote and recorded a song called, Love and Tears for Ukraine, which he has permitted RTQ to use in its fundraising efforts. Dr. Carrie York, a Mercer Island dentist, donated toothbrushes and toothpaste. Aegis Living held a clothing drive. Absher Construction held a clothing drive and is planning a company-wide fundraising campaign. Many individuals have also donated generously. Donations are tax-deductible because RTQ is a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

“We encourage people to go to the website and donate,” said Daria. “Our plan this time is to see what’s available, and use our financial resources to buy truckloads of food and other supplies that are available there.”

“The lasting impression of our visit, is the incredible network of volunteers, like Nataliya and Cristi, who have answered the call to help. Everywhere we went we saw great need, but we also saw volunteers tirelessly serving those in need.”

As for the future, the Abshers say: “Our goal is to find where the needs are and address them. The Ukrainians we met were optimistic that the war would be over soon. It broke our hearts knowing that wasn’t likely. But they really need that hope. We try to bolster that hope.”

Mercer Island resident John Hamer is a retired editorial writer and columnist for The Seattle Times. The Abshers are his neighbors and friends. Email