By David Dupont
BG Independent News
Sitting in an office in East Hall on the BGSU campus, war in Ukraine is not that far away.
Ukrainians Alona Matchenko and Anastasiia Kryzhanivska explain how they are working to help their beleaguered homeland.
Kryzhanivska’s phone rings. Once, twice, three times. She checks it.
She reads the news from her hometown Mykolaiv. His mother fled the country, as did more than 3 million Ukrainians. But her neighbor stayed.
Just 10 minutes ago, the woman’s text reports that the hospital near the building where Kryzhanivska’s mother lived was destroyed in an airstrike. A nearby park and other buildings in the city were also razed.
This is the reality with which the two women live.
Kryzhanivska is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at BGSU and Director of the Program for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Matchenko is a business owner and a law student at the University of Toledo.
She remembers the rally she helped organize on the UT campus on March 4. As she waited to address the gathering, her mind was elsewhere. A week after the invasion, his mother, stepfather and two younger siblings were finally on their way to Poland.
âHere I am in front of a crowd of 400 people, and they are waiting for me to share something,â she said, âand I have no other thought than how my mother and my two children were going to drive to the Polish border.â
They did it. They are safe, she said. A stranger took them home. But they and other refugees have many and growing needs.
Matchenko participated in the launch of Toledo Helps Ukraine.
The organization’s first task, she said, is to gather the necessary supplies and ship them to Ukraine. On Saturday, March 26, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., a supply drive will be held at 1500 Timberwolf Drive, Holland.
The effort has secured a 40ft semi-trailer rig they want to fill. They hope to fill it in particular with:
- Survival supplies: flashlights, hand warmers, sleeping bags, tents, walkie-talkies and other first aid items.
- Medical supplies: Over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, diphenhydramine, aspirin, and vitamins.
They also collected diapers, hygiene products and other personal care items.
Matchenko said what they collect may change as they hear from refugees in Poland about their needs.
She was asked why she just didn’t ask for cash donations.
She replies, âI want to wrap it with my own hands. I feel so much better doing it. â¦ All of this makes me feel so much better knowing that we can help. It’s something that gives me at least a few hours of sleep at night.
Plus, there was the practical issue of not having their non-profit status squared. Toledo Helps Ukraine has just received 501-(c)3 nonprofit status under the auspices of Water for Ismael while they go through the paperwork to obtain their own nonprofit status, which could take up to nine months.
“I’m not saying the expedition will be a long-term goal,” she said. ” It’s very difficult. I hadn’t realized how difficult it was. God blessed us and we had a miracle. This included donating the platform.
Volunteers came by, she said. And the effort won support from Perrysburg City Council and Mayor Tom Mackin, the law firm Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick, and UT, which helped organize the rally.
All this support was needed. She is a mother, small business owner and law student, and not an activist so far.
âIf it seems like we don’t know what we’re doing, that’s because it is. We are not ashamed. We appreciate the patience,â Matchenko said.
The immediate relief effort is just the first step in Toledo Helps Ukraine’s plans.
The group has pledged to work with US Together to welcome Ukrainian refugees to Toledo when the US government allows them to come. “Our long-term goal is to make Northwest Ohio a welcoming place for refugees.”
Beyond that, she says, they want to raise money to replace all the schools that were destroyed by the Russian invasion. Again, she says, they will seek help from people with expertise who can help them organize fundraising events.
Kryzhanivska takes care of providing support of another kind.
She is asking for greeting cards, electronic or paper, to be sent to children in Ukraine. She is particularly interested in cards made by children. This is part of a project sponsored by the Global Affairs Council of Northwest Ohio.
The council distributes care packages for children, including sweets, toys and notes.
âSupporting people in any way is very important and one of the ways to do that is for people toâ¦send cards like this,â Kryzhanivska said. âThese messages of hope and solidarity are very important because Ukrainians need to know that they are supported.
“It’s something that will help them keep fighting,” she continued. “It’s something that will lift their spirits. For children, it’s also important to know that they are loved, that they are taken care of, that the whole world is trying to help them.
Having these cards from other children is especially meaningful.
“That’s where it gets personal, that’s where you can actually feel the support,” Kryzhanivska said. “These messages from children to Ukrainian children is what brings hope.”
She said: “I had a lot of friends with kids who worked on these cards with their kids, and I think it’s a great opportunity for parents to take this time and talk to their kids about it. what is happening in Ukraine… and to explain this whole situation to them and to help them understand this world a little better.
Digital cards can be emailed to Kryzhanivska at [email protected] or physical greetings can be dropped off in her mailbox on the second floor of East Hall on campus.
What fuels the passion of both women is their awareness of the tribulations faced by their family, friends and colleagues.
The two women first came here to study.
Kryzhanivska was an exchange student in Arkansas 10 years ago. She returned to Ukraine to complete her undergraduate degree. In 2014, she returned to the United States to earn a master’s degree at Ohio University and took a position at BGSU in 2016. Matchenko arrived as an exchange student more than five years ago . Both have found a home in northwest Ohio.
“It’s very nice to see the impact and the feedback we’ve received from Northwest Ohio,” Matchenko said. âI have lived here since 2016 as well. It’s my second home. I’m proud to be surrounded by people like that. Â»
She is haunted by the fate of those in her homeland. âFor me, my life is no longer the same. I can’t go back to my everyday life without knowing that I’m actually doing something,â she said. âI still have colleagues and friends in Kyiv in the bomb shelters. They’re not really bomb shelters. It’s a basement and there isn’t even proper ventilation. So people choke. They can’t breathe in there.
Kryzhanivska said her sister-in-law is a doctor in Mykolaiv and continues to work every day. âWe also have COVID cases rising because people are sitting together in enclosed spaces and wearing a mask is not a priority, so chronic cases are on the rise. We have a pandemic and war going on at the same time.
She also has friends who volunteer for the Territorial Defense Force. âThey are not part of the armed forces of Ukraine. They just picked up their guns and protect the towns and villages where they are.
A silent art demonstration took place in a town where 109 empty strollers were displayed to represent children who had died at that stage of the war, Kryzhanivska said. “The numbers are increasing hour by hour.”
“All these stories and images,” Matchenko said, “is what drives us to do what we do.”