A local non-profit organization has raised and spent over $1 million to help Ukrainians on the battlefields, those in need of medical assistance and the children left behind as victims of the war.
The mission of Assist Ukraine from Carbondale is supposed to deliver medical supplies directly to people defending their country in Ukraine, but in recent months its reach has expanded to an orphanage in the western part of the country.
Art Davidson, co-founder of Assist Ukraine, said the organization works directly with territorial defense brigades and the biggest needs in this area right now are satellite phones and radios.
At the start of the February invasion, the greatest need was for helmets, flak jackets, tourniquets, Israeli bandages, quick-release gauze, and decompression needles that fit into emergency medical kits, which volunteers bring to the front lines for the defenders.
Davidson said many of these items are still needed, but also more technology for fighters to keep them untracked and support for the orphanage.
“The war changes every day, the needs change, the distress of the situation changes, the stress changes all the time,” he said of family breakup. “Our efforts have continued and increased in intensity and necessity.”
Davidson and his son Joe traveled to the area last spring and came into contact with someone who was able to secure a facility for an orphanage that now houses about 100 children.
They come from Bucha, which is near Kyiv, and from Kharkiv, where some of the greatest atrocities have occurred, such as Ukrainians being lined up in the middle of the street and shot in the back of the head.
“We want to give them an education, a chance and hope,” Davidson said, adding that his son stayed at the orphanage for two and a half months to collect donations and work with the children. “We need sustainable funding for the orphanage and create a safe place. If anyone wants to help children, please get in touch.”
He said without the generosity of the people of the Roaring Fork Valley, Assist Ukraine’s efforts would not have come to fruition to the extent that they have.
Davidson said an elderly woman called and said she didn’t trust the internet and wanted to personally donate $50 and a used knee brace. Shortly after this connection, a local resident donated $20,000.
“I really appreciate the people of the Roaring Fork Valley,” he said. “Imagine that happening in the Roaring Fork Valley and you’re wondering if a missile is going to hit Carbondale, Willits or Glenwood?”
Davidson said after being there, he saw the organization’s efforts first-hand.
“The question we ask ourselves is, ‘Are we saving lives?'” he said. “We know it makes a difference.”
Led by Assist Ukraine and the Uniters FoundationAspen City Councilman Ward Hauenstein traveled to Poland on a personal assignment in March to deliver surveillance drones and medical supplies.
A day after expressing an interest in helping and being asked to make the personal delivery, Hauenstein booked and paid for round-trip flights to Warsaw, traveled 21 hours to Poland and left less than 72 hours later.
Davidson said at the time that if those drones had been shipped, they would likely still be in a warehouse awaiting delivery.
After the Russian invasion, Assist Ukraine was founded by Anne Garrels, a longtime correspondent for National Public Radio and author of “Putin Country”; Heinz Coordes, a Vietnamese Silver Star-awarded fighter pilot; Davidson, an author and businessman who organized relief efforts for orphans of the Iraq war; and Irka Tkaczuk, a Ukrainian-American attorney.
They have three working principles: making sure what they are delivering is needed and responding to the priorities of Ukrainians on the front lines; ensuring that every shipment of relief supplies reaches the people who need it as quickly as possible and that all critical materials are couriered to their intended destination; and ensure every penny of every donation is used to purchase needed supplies.
The founders personally bear all transport, procurement, logistics and other overhead costs.
“It’s just going to continue and we feel like there’s something we can do,” Davidson said. “We are committed to long-term support for these children.
“We want them to have security, education, love and encouragement. give you a life.”