Helping Ukraine proves difficult for some Ukrainians in US: NPR

Ianina and Sergiy Piontkovskyi at their home in a suburb of Washington, DC on March 4.

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Ianina and Sergiy Piontkovskyi at their home in a suburb of Washington, DC on March 4.

Greg Kahn for NPR

Yanina Piontkovska, like many Ukrainians living in the United States, follows the news of the Russian invasion of her country with shock and anguish. “I could never have foreseen this massacre,” she said.

“It’s hard to see the pictures of destroyed buildings in Kyiv,” says Piontkovska, tears in her eyes. “I used to walk these streets and I can’t accept the reality.”

Her 80-year-old Russian-born mother, a brother and family, her stepfather, many friends, and her husband, Sergiy Piontkovskyi, live in Ukraine. Her husband goes back and forth between Kiev and the United States – and luckily, she says, he was in the United States when the invasion began.

“I’m very scared,” the 55-year-old mother of three said while sitting in her living room in a Washington, DC suburb one recent morning. She says Putin will not back down, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Piontkovska talks with her mother and friends throughout the day, several times a day, she says. “I need to hear their voices.” But she says she struggles with her emotions, “I have to be brave and optimistic to keep them calm and give them hope.” She says it’s nerve-wracking to hear the shelling across the line.

On the weekend of February 26, a pediatrician friend in Kyiv told her of urgent medical needs in hospitals and clinics, she says. “I knew then that I had to organize donations of medical supplies to the United States.” She contacted Ohmatdyt Central Children’s Hospital in Kyiv and got a list of what was urgently needed – things like blood-stopping drugs, painkillers, tourniquets and antibiotics, she said.

The Piontkovskyi family has a Ukrainian flag hanging outside their home.

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Obtaining donations was easy but shipping logistics in Kyiv prove difficult

“I emailed everyone I know in the United States asking for these items,” she says. “I never thought I would do something like this because I didn’t think Russia would invade.”

Piontkovska says asking for donations was the easy part, but it’s the logistics of shipping to a country in the midst of an attack, and straight to Kyiv Children’s Hospital that proves difficult.

She contacted her local Red Cross to no avail. She also called the National and International Red Cross and Razom for Ukraine – no luck either.

Razom for Ukraine or Together for Ukraine is an American non-profit organization created to help Ukrainians after Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014. Board member Maria Genkin says her group has received overwhelming support since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

Genkin says traditional delivery and shipping methods in Ukraine have been affected because bridges and roads have been destroyed or made extremely dangerous by the invasion. But she says Razom is currently shipping aid directly to Lviv, a city in western Ukraine about 80km from the border with Poland that has been spared direct attacks.

“Razom has an organized network of volunteers on the ground in Ukraine delivering donations, it’s a crowdsourced delivery system,” she said, adding that many people in Ukraine are involved in the effort.

For the past two weeks, says Genkin, “Razom’s top priority has been shipping medical first aid kits to treat excessive bleeding.” She says these kits are for civilians fighting in the field and include tourniquets, dressing gauze and emergency trauma dressings, among other related necessities.

“If Razom has donations delivered to its New Jersey warehouse, we will ship it, but having it delivered to a specific hospital is not realistic,” Genkin says. It is a financial responsibility for Razom to ship aid from the west coast to their warehouse. “That’s why we couldn’t work with Ianina Piontkovska’s donations,” says Genkins.

Ianina Piontkovska still has family in Kyiv, including her 80-year-old Russian-born mother.

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The American Red Cross does not participate in these types of humanitarian efforts

The American Red Cross, through a spokesperson, told NPR that the organization is working on the ground in Ukraine and that while the humanitarian needs are incredibly high, the organization cannot undertake efforts like those of Piontkovska. The spokesperson says – although well-meaning:

“The American Red Cross does not accept these donations, which take time, money and resources to sort and distribute. The best way to help, at this time, is to make a financial donation. designated to your local Red Cross.”

Piontkovska did not give up. She relies more on her own circle of friends and family in the United States. His daughter’s sister-in-law, Neeka Delaney, is responsible for sales and purchasing at Allied Medical Products, Inc., Delaney’s family medical supply business in Orange County, California, and donates syringes, needles, tourniquet kits , gloves, diapers and formula.

“Some of our customers have also reached out to us for help,” Delaney says. “We’re preparing several pallets ready to ship,” and Delta Logistics, Inc., an Iowa-based company with a warehouse in Oregon, agreed to ship it.

And although Allied has provided humanitarian financial assistance to other countries, including Armenia and Lebanon, Delaney says: “That sounds more daunting.

“The invasion has disrupted shipping logistics,” she says, “and we want to make sure what we send will go where it needs to go.”

Ihor Levkiv is also organizing medical aid to Ukrainians besieged since the start of the invasion. He and his family came to the United States 27 years ago. He is president of the Ukrainian-American Cultural Association of Oregon and Southwest Washington.

“The willingness to help has been incredible,” says Levkiv. It also organizes aid donations and expeditions to Ukraine. “We have about 57 pallets of medical supplies in Portland ready to ship and about 30 pallets in Seattle already,” he says. These were donated by local individuals, schools, churches.

Ianina, Sergiy and their daughters Sonia and Mariana Piontkovskyi, at home. Helping Ukraine is a family effort. Sergiv has created an online petition to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine and Sonia and Mariana are organizing fundraisers at their schools

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“It’s even hard to describe, but I come up against huge obstacles”

And just like Piontkovska, Levkiv’s biggest challenge has been getting aid to Ukraine, he says.

“It’s even hard to describe, but I’m running into huge hurdles,” he says. He is in contact with officials in Washington, DC, as well as the Ukrainian Embassy in San Francisco, “but still no solution,” he says. He is also approaching DHL, the international shipping company, in hopes the pallets can be airlifted from Portland, Oregon, to Poland.

“The scenes of Putin’s attacks are unconscionable and appalling,” Levkiv said. He followed the news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine with anxiety and anger. He says if the world doesn’t stop Putin now, “He won’t stop after destroying Ukraine. Who will Putin invade next?”

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine intensifies, nearly two weeks after it began, Piontkovska and Levkiv say they feel like they are racing against time to deliver much-needed medical supplies. But this week, the first shipment begins its journey from the Allied Medical Products warehouse in California to Delta Logistics in Oregon and then to Ukraine, confirms Allied’s Neeka Delaney.

It took many sleepless nights, phone calls, emails, but Piontkovska and Levkiv say their determination to help their country remains unfettered.

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