When the Russian aggression against Ukraine started in February of 2022, I did not anticipate that it would still be going on almost a year later. Clearly, all the history books I’ve read did not prepare me for a real European war happening in front of our eyes. As much as I hate to make references to both world wars, I now remember that, at the beginning of each of those conflicts, the soldiers were always promised that they would be “home by Christmas.”
Now, in April of 2023, more than six months since the shelling of civilian infrastructure by the Russian regime began, Ukrainians need our support more than ever. Thanks to your continuing generous donations over the past few months, we managed to travel to Ukraine three times; once in December with humanitarian aid to the Kharkiv region, and twice in March to Western Ukraine.
The December 2022 supply run deep into the eastern part of Ukraine took a total of six days. Following meticulous research into what was needed most, we acquired and collected another relief package and traveled to the Kharkiv region.
This was my third organized wartime visit to Ukraine (not counting the trips to help evacuate the civilian population in February and March of 2022) and the second time we ventured so close to the frontline.
If you want to read about the other two missions, check the articles below:
So, what has changed since September? Let me start by saying what hasn’t changed. The resolve of the Ukrainian people to defeat the aggressor and liberate all of their territory is as strong as ever. They’re willing to do whatever it takes and endure all hardships to see their homeland free of Russian interference.
But a few things were, in fact, different. Waiting at military checkpoints took much more time. Whether it was because the checks were more thorough or because more people are now traveling around the Kharkiv region, the queues were definitely longer.
Even though this time we were much farther from the active frontline, which was now 90 miles away in Bakhmut, the ongoing shelling of the region from the Russian side left a visible mark on the infrastructure and people. The roads and buildings were much more devastated than they were in September and we could still hear missiles in the distance.
THE FIRST STAGE OF THE JOURNEY
During my previous two visits to Ukraine, I managed to build a network of contacts who helped us better identify the needs of the local population. This, together with the ongoing communication between the Taube Center and Ukrainian humanitarian organizations, helped us formulate a very precise plan.
It was recommended that we focus on raw materials, rather than finished products. There are several benefits of this approach. First of all, by buying fabric instead of clothes, we can better utilize the money we’ve collected; it is simply a more efficient use of our resources. Second of all, local manufacturers in Ukraine can use the fabric to better respond to actual demand in terms of types of clothes needed, sizes, etc. And, finally, by manufacturing locally, Ukrainian civilians get jobs and give the economy a much-needed boost.
That is why we purchased over 240 meters of polar fleece in one of the fabric factories in the city of Lodz; a traditionally textile city. In fact, the history of this industry in Lodz dates back to the second part of the 19th century, with many enterprises belonging to Jewish families.
The owners of the Kilian factory have been supporting Ukrianians from the beginning. When they heard what we were trying to achieve, they gave us a substantial discount. This allowed us to purchase even more fleece than originally anticipated.
We also brought many pairs of socks; mostly for the soldiers who are currently freezing in the trenches. Through cooperation with other foundations, our car filled up quickly and we were ready to go.
We left Warsaw on December 22nd and headed towards the border. We spent the night in Kyiv and visited a so-called “independence point” – a place where civilians can charge up their phones, get something warm to drink, and even come with their kids for a fun workshop. In face of constant problems with heating and electricity, the Ukrainian government and NGOs created a network of such places, usually located in schools or supermarkets. Those makeshift “heating huts” are a big part of the Ukrainian civilian support initiative.
Then we made our way to Kharkiv, to the same warehouse we visited during our last trip. We reconnected with some of the people we already knew, but also saw many new faces. The warehouse, operated by the Zvychaine Ludyny NGO, is still being used for storing and sorting supplies being delivered to Kharkiv from all over the world. It also serves as a sewing station where used or damaged clothes are recycled into pillows or camouflage nets. The former make their way into local hospitals, the latter to the front line.
You might have seen online tutorials on how to make homemade candles using recycled cans, cardboard, and paraffin. People of Ukraine have perfected the recipe, and know exactly the amount of paraffin needed and how to cut and fold the cardboard so that the candles are efficient and almost smoke-free. Thanks to your support, the Taube Center donated 220 pounds of paraffin to the warehouse.
We also stopped at a food station where meals are being prepared. There is a bakery and a kitchen that make the dishes that are later distributed to many “eateries” in the area. The food prepared by around 20 people makes its way to almost 3,000 civilians. People sometimes wait for hours to get a warm meal.
The following day, on our way to Kupyansk, we stopped at Drobytsky Yar, a memorial for 16,000 Jews murdered there in freezing temperatures by the Nazis in 1941. One of the local landmarks, the so-called Drobytsky Menorah, was smashed during the Russian invasion last March. During our last trip, the site was blocked off by the Ukrainian military, as the entire region was subject to constant Russian shelling.
The city of Kupyansk was more severely damaged than during our last visit; the ongoing missile and drone attacks have taken their toll on the buildings and roads. We’ve met with the soldiers stationed east of the city, mostly in regular homes transformed into small military barracks, where a dozen or so soldiers can live.
We delivered socks, power banks and Wellington boots. It is hard to believe that in the third decade of the 21st century, where drones, precise artillery and advanced tanks are being used, thousands of soldiers are still experiencing the same challenges as they did in the trenches of World War I: mud, rain and freezing temperature.
On our way back from Kupyansk, we picked up a local resident who wanted to leave the area and get to western Ukraine. She traveled with us all the way to the Zakarpattia region.
PROVIDING AID TO WESTERN UKRAINE // MARCH 2023
Since that December supply run, I managed to visit Ukraine twice more. This time, our destination was western Ukraine and we delivered humanitarian aid purchased by the Taube Center and by other institutions.
Our continued cooperation with the city of Novolynsk at the Polish border is the perfect example of Ukrainian self-organization and determination. Before February 24, 2022, around 50,000 people lived in the city. Today, Novolynsk is home to around 70,000 residents, which includes refugees from the eastern part of the country.
The city, together with many local NGOs, is taking care of the newcomers by adapting schools and providing accommodation. They also organized four eateries, which are serving hot meals to around 10,000 people each day.
From the very first days of the war, the local population of Novolynsk has been supporting the troops by making camouflage nets, organizing bulletproof vests and other supplies.
As the Taube Center, this March we provided over 200 meters of polar fleece and 200 meters of resources for making first aid kits. Several local institutions donated more supplies, such as a complete gearbox assembly, car tires for SUVs that Ukrainian soldiers use on a daily basis and six power generators. We were happy to help with the delivery, as we still had some room left in the car.
The supply run also included 80 portable gas stoves and over 360 gas tanks. Those in-demand items were distributed among the soldiers fighting around Kramatorsk and Bakhmut, as well as among the civilians.
All this is much appreciated, as in many places there is no electricity or gas. Recently, Ukrainian authorities announced the evacuation of civilians from several towns due to their inability to provide heating, electricity and gas to the area.
A lot has changed in the past five months in Ukraine. We could see that the liberated areas, especially around the city of Kharkiv, have become more structured and formalized. This time, we had to obtain signatures when handing over supplies and those documents would need to be later presented at the border.
But local support networks are also more organized, everyone knows where they can get help and what the options are. Although people still queue for food and other resources, there is a sense of order and flow about the entire process.
I was inspired to see how the government can efficiently cooperate with local business establishing “heating huts,” warehouses and food stations. In many of those operations, it is difficult to tell the difference between grassroots and government initiatives: everyone simply works together to achieve their common goals.
This war will end someday; all wars do. But the support is still needed. For the refugees outside Ukraine, for those who stayed in the country and — last but not least — for those fighting, not only for their homeland, but for the values and principles of the democratic, free world.
Thanks to your generous support, we are helping in the following areas:
- organizing workshops for Ukrainian refugees in Poland
- subsidizing support initiatives
- delivering food, medical supplies, clothing, and equipment to Ukraine
If you would like to help us more, please make a tax-deductible donation to the Taube Foundation: