One year on, Ukrainians in U.S. cope with war, displacement
PORT READING, N.J. (AP) — In New York, far from her home in northern Ukraine, Valeriya Roshkovan tries to do what she can to end Russia's invasion of her country.
“I cannot sit and do nothing," she said earlier this month in a New Jersey warehouse where she volunteers with the nonprofit Razom for Ukraine, helping package donated firefighting equipment to ship to her country.
Roshkovan, 41, fled Konotop, her city close to Ukraine's northern border with Belarus, soon after the fighting began in order to keep her teenage daughter safe. She had to leave her husband and other family behind.
“The town was surrounded, all the artillery was pointed at the town and most of the exits were already in the hands of Russia,” Roshkovan said through another volunteer who translated her words.
“We had the hope that it’s going to finish very soon, that the war will be over,” she added. “And that we will be able to come back quickly.”
As the first anniversary of Russia's invasion approaches Friday, that hope is diminished. Roshkovan has enrolled her teenage daughter in school. She's trying to get her to engage with their Brooklyn, New York, surroundings and to stop dwelling on the war and their long escape, driving through Ukraine and several neighboring countries.
Last year, many Ukrainians living in America discovered Razom, a small nonprofit that started in 2014 with the mission to help make Ukraine more prosperous. In previous years, it had received around $200,000 in contributions annually. In 2022, the number of donors jumped from around 4,000 to 170,000 and gifts now total at least $75 million, said Dora Chomiak, the organization’s president.
“A lot of people are just moved by the complete injustice of the bad guy next door to Ukraine, just destroying lives. People are moved by the resilience of the people of Ukraine,” she said.
The nonprofit stood up a logistics network, opened and staffed an office in Washington to advocate for Ukraine to lawmakers and granted at least $3 million to small nonprofits in Ukraine. They've held almost weekly protests in Times Square to try to keep the war in the public eye. Support for sending weapons and aid to Ukraine and for hosting Ukrainians displaced by the war among Americans has waned from May to January, a recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found.
Initially, Razom focused on sourcing and delivering tactical medical equipment and communications equipment to the frontlines, including to volunteer fighters.
“Tourniquets, chest seals, different bandages to either stop bleeding or give the first help at the battlefield,” said Andriy Boychuk, 35, a businessman who has lived in the U.S. for 17 years and was leading the effort at the warehouse.
“If not us, who else?” he said, when asked why a nonprofit was sending supplies to the frontlines. More recently, it has shipped generators, wood burning stoves and candles to its warehouse in Lviv, tracking the shipments with a software program that Razom members developed themselves. Razom’s staff in Ukraine then reloads the goods into vans to take where needed.
Boychuk and other volunteers said packing these supplies by hand is a kind of therapy for them, helping them feel like they are making a difference.
“It touches everybody," Boychuk said of the war. "And that’s why I think we are here, because we want to help and try to not think what’s going on there because it destroys people,”
The aid they send is in line with Razom’s charitable mission, as well as import and export regulations, Chomiak said. But that line is sometimes difficult to navigate.
“Who is a civilian and who is military? That was hard for myself personally to kind of parse out,” she said, until she realized while visiting Ukraine in the summer that everyone was fighting to survive, in one way or another.
Another volunteer, Dmytro Malymonenko, learned about Razom when the war began, through Boychuk, who is a neighbor. “I wanted to help but didn’t know how and where to start and where to look for the community,” he said.
Over the past year, the war's impact has intensified for him. Malymonenko’s mother recently died in Ukraine of an illness he said was exacerbated by the stress and depression caused by the war. His father returned to their hometown of Sumy, which has been under bombardment, to organize a funeral.
His life has been torn apart, he said, urging everyone to take some action.
“Even a thought or a prayer can help,” he said.
Roshkovan said it still gives her goosebumps to talk about the war, which she did not believe would break out between countries whose populations have been intertwined for generations.
“It’s not just the war. It’s not just the aggression that happened," she said, touching the skin on her forearms. "But it’s also the basically breakage of those ties. It’s the huge betrayal.”
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Thalia Beaty, The Associated Press