By Carol Stiffler
In a famous Cold-War speech given on June 26, 1963, U.S. President John. F. Kennedy declared “Ich bin ein Berliner” – “I am a Berliner”.
Today, many Americans and even local residents feel such a tie to Ukraine, currently under siege by Russian forces. Though our local ties may not be direct, residents like Heather Stoynoff have openly stated that they stand with Ukraine.
“I’m Polish, so they are my cousins,” Stoynoff said. Stoynoff’s Facebook profile photo currently supports Ukraine, and she is supporting financial efforts to assist Ukrainians now. “My heart is big for the country. I feel so bad.”
She does technically know some Ukranians – hardly necessary to feel a bond with the young democratic nation. A pair of adopted six-year-old Ukranian twins used to receive treatment at the office where Stoynoff formerly worked. “And I just fell in love with them,” she said.
Stoynoff appreciates efforts by some who have found Airbnb lodgings available for rent in Kyiv, Ukraine, booking and paying for stays with near immediate dates just to get money into the hands of the home’s owner. Travel to Ukraine is not necessary, and the U.S. government has issued a travel advisory urging Americans not to travel to Ukraine or Russia. But the funds reach Ukraine even when the people don’t, and refugees are staying in many Airbnb units at the moment.
Former Newberry resident Tabitha Bergman, who now lives in Anchorage, Alaska, has an assortment of international friends including one from Belarus. That country is now seen as a Russian ally, and Bergman doesn’t quite know what to say.
“I just told her I’m praying for her and her family,” Bergman said.
Ernie Maki, who is related to the Maki family in Newberry, has been to Ukraine five times on mission trips through his church. Through his own church, Central Wesleyan, Maki works with Transformation Church in Kyiv, a congregation that launched in 1995 and had two Sunday worship sessions with 400 members at each session every week.
“We’ve got many, many, many close friends there,” Maki said.
Maki is working now to raise money to help some church members move to safety in the Carpathian mountains on the western border of Ukraine. The journey, which usually takes nine or 10 hours, now takes a full 24 hours due to damaged roads and the need to travel securely.
The men are not safe, Maki said, as any Ukrainian man between age 18 and 60 is required to stay behind and fight.
Transformation Church Pastor Peter Marchenko and his wife, Anna, had traveled to the United States prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and now cannot get home. They have set up an American bank account and are raising funds here to help people get to safety.
If anyone wants to contribute to the cause, Maki vouches for Pastor Peter’s character. “Pastor Peter would be the guy you can trust as much as you can trust the Lord,” Maki said. “Any help the folks there want to provide would be awesome.”
A Gofundme account has also been set up and can be accessed at bit.ly/KievChurch.
There are other ways to safely contribute funds online:
Savethechildren.org is providing food, water, hygiene kits, and cash to families with children.
Movie star Mila Kunis, who is Ukrainian, and her husband Ashton Kutcher have set up a Gofundme account seeking to raise $30 million for Ukraine and donated the first $3 million; it had nearly $19 million by Monday evening. Visit Gofundme.com/f/stand-with-ukraine to donate.
The Salvation Army has a special contributions page for Ukraine donations, available at sawso.org/sawso/ukraine-disaster-and-refugee-relief.
As with any charitable contribution, it is important to verify the legitimacy of the campaign and organization prior to donating money. Scammers have already set up false appeals and donation sites, according to national news sources.