Encouraging to support: how a family from Albany rallies a community to help Ukrainian Teple Misto 122

Encouraging to support: how a family from Albany rallies a community to help Ukrainian

Khrystyna Valigunda and her daughter Solomiya have been living in the USA for many years. Since the beginning of the full-scale war, their family has actively supported Ukraine – with donations to the Armed Forces, procurement of medicines, and a powerful information campaign.

When the full-scale invasion began, Solomiya organized a fundraiser at the school and decided to purchase medical kits for the Ukrainian military. The family comes from Ivano-Frankivsk, so they decided to send the aid here to Prykarpattia battalions. By simple actions, they managed to raise over $14,000. “Teple misto” spoke with a mother and daughter about their campaign to support Ukraine.

– How long have you lived in the United States?

Khrystyna: We left Ukraine in 2013, even before the Revolution of Dignity, before the start of the war. At that time, the children were already grown-ups: Solomiya was 7 years old, and the eldest daughter, Ksenya, was 11. They remembered where is their home and spoke Ukrainian.

In the beginning, we came to Philadelphia because there is a large Ukrainian diaspora here. But unfortunately, there also were many “soviet people”. People who have the 90s mindset and took the “nuances” of that time with them. People who are stuck in those concepts and cultural layers. Here, no one distinguished whether you were from Ukraine or another country of the former Soviet Union – everyone was Russian. Then I said that I had left Ukraine not because I wanted to get into the “Russian world”. We even had an idea to return home, but we decided to go to Albany (the capital of the state of New York, – ed.), and stay here. Now we live in a small town near Albany.

It is essential for me that children remember where they are from and who they are. We keep many authentic things from Ukraine at home. For example, there are pillows that my great-grandmother and grandmother embroidered, and some I embroidered myself. We do our best to know and preserve our culture. To take all the best from the current environment and not forget who we are. Sometimes it seems that we are more Ukrainian here than we actually were at home.

(Solomia and her older sister Ksenia at a telethon in support of Ukraine)

– Do you remember your first reaction to the events of February 24?

Khrystyna: The awareness that we have to help our country came immediately. Many of our relatives and friends went to the frontline. Therefore, standing aside wasn’t even an option for us. I don’t understand how you can do nothing or pretend that nothing is happening and life goes on.

(Solomia at the prayer service for Ukraine)

Solomia: Our community created an online platform that united the efforts of our churches, a cultural center – 518Ukrainians.com (518 is the telephone code of the Capital District of the State of New York). We also have a Facebook page, “518Ukrainians”. Aid for Ukraine is coordinated here – we collect necessary supplies, raise money, and coordinate supporting actions. There is also information for Ukrainians who have arrived in the United States.

– Tell us more about the support actions carried out by the local community. How many people are involved, and how do Americans react?

Khrystyna: The community is holding many support actions, demonstrations, and charity events. We had a telethon to raise money – this is an action on television when presenters call on for donations for Ukraine every 10-20 minutes on the air. In this way, our community collected quite a large amount of donations. Recently, DakhaBrakha (Ukrainian musical Ethno band – ed.) gave a charity concert, where we had the opportunity again to remind about the war. But we notice that the level of interest of local Americans has dropped significantly.

Solomiya: I feel it even at school. If in the first months after the start of the full-scale war, friends and teachers constantly asked about the situation in Ukraine and supported me, now I have to remind them that the war is not over yet.

Khrystyna: There was tremendous support from local Americans, and now “Ukrainian fatigue” is felt in the first months. There is already less talk about Ukraine, and, accordingly, we receive less help – everyone is tired of the war. And this is happening not only in the United States but all over the world, unfortunately. Even in Ukraine.

But we have no right to be tired. Because Ukrainian defenders in the trenches don’t have that option, or people under occupation, people who have lost everything – they cannot afford to be tired.

Therefore, we try to talk about Ukraine wherever we can. The big Saratoga Springs Race takes place near our town every summer. On August 24, Independence Day, we will have Ukraine Day here at Saratoga Track. We plan to sell various souvenir products and spread information about the war as much as possible to raise funds to support Ukraine.

– But do people understand that this is not only Ukraine’s war?

Christina: Certainly! People help in different ways – as much as they can. It happened that neighbors, whom we do not know personally, came and gave checks – for 200, 300 dollars. They don’t relate to Ukraine, but they understand that this is not only our war, that we are in this together. Once the neighbors, an older couple – they have already retired, brought $500. It is a significant amount for them, but they discussed it and decided to help. When the man brought an envelope with money, he said: “I can’t stand Putin, so I have to do something. I don’t want to give money to some fund, but you know what to do with this money.” At such moments, my faith in humanity is restored.

 People help Ukraine because the truth is on our side.

– Solomia, how did you come up with the idea to arrange a fundraising campaign in your school?

We saw a similar idea at the church – they were selling blue and yellow ribbons there, and I thought we could also do something at my school.

Khrystyna: Solomiya really wanted to do something to help Ukraine. In the first few days, she even said: it’s a pity that we are not in Ukraine now. When she came up with the idea to make and sell blue and yellow pins at home, her goal was to raise at least $100 and buy one good first aid kit.


(Solomia near the stand for Ukraine support)

Solomiya: But it turned out that I sold out all the pins on the first day, even received orders in advance. It was very common for people to pay attention to my stand but hardly know what is happening in Ukraine. So I shared the news about Ukraine and my impressions with them. The teachers told students about my initiative in the lessons, and it happened that the entire class bought the pins. The history teacher even changed the program for one day and in every lesson spoke about Ukraine, explaining what was going on.

People ordered 20-30 pieces to give to their friends. At that time, the whole family helped me make pins because I have to make 40-50 in the evening before school, as well as do my homework.

Khrystyna: It was a family business… (laughs – ed). When we saw that the idea of pins became so popular at the school, I thought I could sell pins at my work. I wrote a message on the corporate social network that my 16-year-old daughter is making these pins herself, raising money to help Ukraine, namely for first-aid kits. I used to write and talk a lot about the Russian-Ukrainian war before, but I didn’t even expect that there would be such a demand! I literally immediately received a whole avalanche of requests: everyone wanted to order pins. My colleagues were overwhelmed by my conscious daughter.

We are a global company – people are scattered all over the US and the whole world, so some just gave $100, without expecting anything in return. In total, we sold for about 1,500 dollars – roughly, I don’t even know the exact amount.

(Pins that Solomiya made to support Ukraine)

Solomiya: We sold until all those who wanted to buy pins already bought them. But we had to think about how to raise money further. I remembered that our school has a “Casual day” for teachers. This is when, for a donation of a few dollars to any charity, teachers can come to work in jeans on Friday. I agreed with the coordinator of the “Casual day” that the teachers will donate $1-2 to 518Ukrainians.com. That way we raised more than $300.

I also work in the school newspaper – I wrote here articles about the situation in Ukraine, and published photos. I also hung posters around the school with a link to 518Ukrainians.com and messages about how to help Ukraine. One of the teachers brought about 4 boxes with various medical supplies. There are few Ukrainians at our school, so I took it upon myself to tell everyone about Ukraine as much as possible.

– Solomia, you really did a great job! Maybe you already have some ideas on how to raise money further?

In October, the school will have a homecoming football game. This is a big sporting event, and I want to represent Ukraine there. But it can be difficult to collect permits from the administration. Sometimes, I wrote 15 emails to the director about initiatives until I got permission. But I will not stop because my country still needs help, and I want to do even more.

Khrystyna: Solomiya also draws! She has a page on redbubble.com. Artists can sell their works here.

Solomiya: Yes, I have been selling my designs for several months now. I receive 20% of each sale and transfer it to Ukraine. People can buy designs for stickers, t-shirts, magnets, and anything here. I think this is one of the best methods because there are users from all over the world here. Once a guy from Australia bought my work! I like that it is possible to do what I love to do, what I know how to do, and thus help Ukraine.

Read also: Double aid: how to motivate people to support the Armed Forces proactively?

– Khrystyna, I know you also came up with an interesting way to support the Armed Forces. Tell us about your birthday fundraiser initiative.

Well, I was inspired by the idea of wish lists. Americans often make a wish list for their birthday or another celebration and send it to friends, or just ask to support a charity instead of gifts.

I have a birthday in April. I don’t usually celebrate it, but it was my anniversary, and I decided to take advantage of this opportunity. So I said: “Folks, I really need dressing materials for my birthday. You will make me so happy!.’ And there was a link to the list on Amazon (a company that sells goods and services over the Internet – ed.). And people started to buy: someone could afford one hemostatic drug, someone could buy $1000 worth of medicines. Then courier cars with huge boxes came to the house all day. Probably, people gained more confidence in buying something themselves on Amazon than just giving money. Someone did not buy anything but paid for the shipment of medicines by plane, which is also very expensive, considering the dimensions of the cargo.

(Medications bought by the family)

– Buying medicines on your own can be risky. Low-quality medications are worse than none at all. How did you form the lists of needs? Who helped you with the request?

Khrystyna: When we collected the first $1000-1500, we wanted to buy first-aid kits, but we didn’t know their quality. Then I remembered that my husband’s former classmate works at the Save Ukraine Now coordination center. So, through old acquaintances, we reached out to people who know what to buy and where. At first, we just wanted to transfer money to SUN, but they said it would be better to buy medicines that are unavailable in Ukraine. I knew people from the coordination center, so I was not worried about where and to whom these medicines were going. They reported to me when they received the parcel, and sent a photo.

Thanks to the fact that our family spoke a lot, wrote a lot about the war in Ukraine, and called for help from the beginning of the full-scale invasion – people knew what was happening and trusted us. Of course, we would like to do more. Sometimes I think that maybe we would be more useful in Ukraine, but we need to look for ways to make help where we are now. 

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