As War in Ukraine Continues, People Fight to Deliver Aid
By: MELISSA FISHMAN/ EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
It has been nearly nine months since the war in Ukraine began on Feb. 24.
Despite the near constant bloodshed that has occurred during the course of these months, the war has all but disappeared from mainstream headlines, which begs the question: have people forgotten about Ukraine?
Michael Byrne is a 54-year-old former health and social care worker living in London who firmly argues that yes, people have forgotten.
Byrne organizes an independent non-profit in the United Kingdom called Drive Aid to Ukraine which endeavors to transport donations to the people of Ukraine, and he knows all too well the effects of people forgetting the war.
So far, Byrne has made the nearly 3,000 mile trip to the Ukraine border seven times, often driving for two to three days and sleeping in his van.
He has been able to do this through strategic planning and generous donations from the public, and although Byrne shows no signs of stopping any time soon, the flow of donations is in jeopardy of slowing down.
“The level of demand, the level of complexity, they really do need everybody to still keep control and keep supplying. So their message was very simple: please don't stop supplying. Please don't stop coming,“ said Byrne.
In the past, Byrne has been successful in raising £6,000, but he is now aiming to raise an additional £24,000 for a grand total of £30,000 — five times the amount of his original goal.
This latest goal is inspired by the upcoming holiday season and Byrne’s vision is to provide as many displaced Ukrainian children with a sense of normalcy and holiday spirit as possible.
“There's a growing need to, particularly for the children, provide them with skill books, laptops, toys,” said Byrne. “So in our Christmas winter appeal, we're also looking at raising Christmas presents to take home.”
While Byrne’s goal may seem ambitious to some, he argues that this amount is needed to help those displaced cope with the long winter ahead.
Electrical heaters, warm clothing, generators, and non-perishable food are all welcome donations, but it is the flow of monetary donations that helps Byrne to fund each trip to Ukraine.
With the one year mark of the war on the horizon, Byrne is working diligently to prepare for his eighth trip to the border, showing no fear that the upcoming winter weather may slow him down.
His mantra is simple: the challenge I face is fairly insignificant compared to the challenges people are facing inside Ukraine.
However, Byrne is not alone in his mission to help the people of Ukraine.
In the heart of our campus community, Ivanna Balkova has felt the shock waves caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has vowed to do whatever she can to help the people of Ukraine.
Balkova is a fourth-year nursing student, born in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine, who moved to the United States when she was five years old.
In early May, Reuters reported that the people of this once vibrant and flourishing city were urged to stay home for three days or to leave the city altogether to avoid anticipated Russian missile attacks. Now, much of her hometown has been decimated, with Balkova citing the destruction of their airport as their first brush with war.
Balkova’s family in Ukraine has suffered immensely since the start of the war, including losing her grandfather in March.
“My mom and I couldn't even make it out there,” said Balkova, reflecting on her loss.
Earlier this year, Balkova became involved in a collection drive for Ukraine after a chance meeting at her local pharmacy. This collection drive was spear-headed by a woman named Maryna Martiko in an apartment building in Brooklyn.
“I went home and I packed everything up and then I took it over,” said Balkova. “I said if you guys ever need help, I'm so down. And I just started coming every day. We had to because this was done from a building lobby and then we went to a church and we were just like Amazon.”
Today, she still works for the collection drive and has even been reunited with her grandmother through the help of an organization called Uniting for Ukraine, but she expressed concerns for her remaining family there.
“I can't get my 21-year-old cousin here because he's male and 21 years old. He's going to be called to the Army so he can't leave,” she said.
Balkova has also noticed a sharp decline in awareness about the war, citing that she has noticed people have posted about it less on social media.
In a poll conducted on the Seawanhaka Instagram (@LIUBKNEWS), nearly 60 percent of respondents agreed that people have forgotten about the war in Ukraine.
Organizations like Byrne’s and Balkova’s rely heavily on donations from the public and since the war isn’t showing any signs of ceasing, they will likely need donations for many months if not years to come.
“We need help. We need help to help Ukraine,” said Byrne. “We can't hide from the fact that we need funding to keep going. And that funding is tough for many different people. And we are one of the organizations, one of the few organizations that connects with NGOs that get the donations into the conflict zones.”
Those interested in donating to Drive Aid to Ukraine are asked to visit the link here.