Locals help with supplies for war-torn Ukraine

Lena Levin of Bainbridge Island was packing for a trip to her hometown of Mykolaiv when she received a message that her flight had been canceled because Russians began bombing Ukraine Feb. 24.

She is deeply worried about her parents there and is helping some friends bring supplies to the war-torn country through a GoFundMe page.

Levin, a product manager for Nike, has only been in Bainbridge a year, moving here to be with partner Michael Coleman and their two little dogs.

Since the beginning of the invasion, Levin has been texting and communicating with her parents, encouraging them to leave the country as soon as possible.

On March 11, Mykolaiv received heavy shelling from Russian forces attempting to take the area north of the Black Sea. As Levin scanned the news she learned of impacts in residential areas and grew more concerned about her parents and discovered shelling was reported at their building.

“I started freaking out,” Levin said, adding she immediately began trying to contact family.

Although three windows in their condo were shattered, her parents Vitaly and Lydia Chechetkim were unharmed. “They’re safe and kind of underplaying it, but I can see that they are shocked.”

Levin was shaken by the shelling coming so close to her family. “They (Russian Army) were bombing without any purpose. There is no strategic military point.”

She said her parents have decided to stay put, despite the danger.

“My parents are anxious about leaving, but are also scared from hearing all the shelling,” and they have heard unconfirmed reports of bandits targeting and shooting refugees on their way out of the country.

Helping with supplies

It’s been an exhausting time for Levin, but she’s doing what she can to help. She started a GoFundMe campaign to support her friends, Anastasia and Dmitry Voloshenko, who has been helping the community by delivering aid to residents and soldiers around Mykolaiv. Levin describes the couple as regular hardworking people who decided not to flee to the western part of the country in order to assist people until international aid arrives.

Levin translated interview questions with the Voloshenkos.

The Voloshenkos are young entrepreneurs, adept at building networks and gathering resources. The recently married couple own and operate four businesses in the city. Like many, they are full of dreams and working hard to achieve their goals. “Now, we live in the middle of a war zone, trying to help as many people as we can,” Voloshenko said.

As the invasion disrupts the supply chain, people can’t get food and medicine they need, which motivated the couple to take action.

“We are young and capable, so Dmitry and I didn’t hesitate and jumped at the opportunity to help the community,” Anastasia said.

Since Voloshenko is a man under age 60 he cannot leave the country, and she is staying by his side.

“I could travel to a safer area in Ukraine,” Anastasia said, but he doesn’t want to. “I feel connected to my hometown now even more than before. I always thought it was a sleepy town and would make jokes about how boring it is. Now, after the war started, things have changed.”

Having grown up there he knows he can make an impact. “If everyone flees, who else will help the elderly and weak people or pets?

Voloshenko said that when things get really tough they will leave, but not now. “The city needs us,” and so does their family. He has a cousin and a grandfather there, and his wife’s parents live in the city as well.

Grassroots volunteers are facing the challenge, and the Voloshenkos are making a difference. They’ve used about $35,000 of their own savings to help hundreds of civilians – mostly women, children and elderly – as well as fulfilling requests for soldiers in the army bases.

“The needs are changing daily. For example, the other day we bought sleeping bags, camping mats, screwdrivers, camping knives and axes for the soldiers; pet food for the animal shelter.” They also bought hygiene products, coffee, thermos bottles, blankets, comfortable shoes and specific medicine and grocery requests. “We do whatever we can to fetch them,” Anastasia said.

They’ve been very resourceful, but shops are running out of goods.

“The supply chain is disrupted, and we have to go to different parts of town to chase down what we need. We are also involved in a larger network of volunteers, so when international donations arrive in trucks or a delivery, we can help distribute them,” Anastasia said.

As conditions worsen, aid is starting to trickle in, and each day brings new supplies that keep them going. One day a truck from Italy delivered boxes of food and supplies. Another day they were able to purchase 700 eggs and dozens of loaves of bread. Also, a humanitarian package from Europe arrived filled with cookies and canned goods including a note that said, “Your courage is an inspiration. STAY STRONG!”

The Voloshenkos recently made a special delivery to Levin’s parents at their damaged home. “They delivered a bag of groceries. My parents were over the top grateful. They didn’t know they would do that,” Levin said.

The Voloshenkos said support coming into Ukraine is making a big difference. “Please keep supporting Ukraine, cook borscht and talk to your politicians. We just want this war to be over and get back to our normal lives.”

For more on the Voloshenkos and to help go to www.gofundme.com/f/mykolaiv.

Dmitry Voloshenko courtesy photo
Anastasia and Dmitry Voloshenko collecting food for their daily deliveries.

Dmitry Voloshenko courtesy photo Anastasia and Dmitry Voloshenko collecting food for their daily deliveries.