As the Russian invasion of neighboring Ukraine continues to escalate, North Carolina’s local Ukrainian population is rallying to bring attention to the suffering of people in their homeland and to gather supplies to help them.
Donna Goldstein, co-president of the Ukrainian Association of North Carolina, finds herself at the forefront of these efforts.
Goldstein has deep ties to the country, as her father was an immigrant from Ukraine during World War II and her mother was born to Ukrainian parents. She also travels there frequently to visit relatives. When Goldstein moved to the Triangle area 30 years ago, she didn’t know how many Ukrainians were here, but that changed in 2014.
In 2014, the Revolution of Dignity, an uprising against Ukraine’s Russian-allied president, brought the community together in a similar way. After the revolutionaries were able to get a more pro-Western president installed, Putin refused to recognize the new government and instead invaded Crimea, a peninsula in the south of Ukraine.
She came to a 2014 rally in Raleigh with a sign that said, “Putin go to hell,” and then was told about the Ukrainian Association of North Carolina. Goldstein said that just a handful of volunteer leaders do most of the organizing, and the main event of the year is their Ukrainian Independence Day picnic. But all of that has changed almost overnight.
Although the UANC Facebook page has become a place to organize and make the community aware of events, she said, “All of this is really organic grassroots,” and that “people just show up and do.”
“It reminds me of the Revolutionary War; I imagine this is what it must have been like,” Goldstein said of the collective, grassroots organizing of Ukrainians around the globe to counter a larger colonial power. “You just banded together and you did you what was needed.”
While some of the events are organically organized, she does want to be clear that they are a registered nonprofit with a bank account and able to take donations. Many people are reaching out to give, and Goldstein says people wanting to give can do so by contacting them on their Facebook page or their website.
She also said they work closely with a group called Razom who they have vetted and recommend people give through. People can even give directly to the Ukrainian government, as well.
“I do worry a bit about scams, as with any donations, but Razom is an organization that has been around for a while,” Goldstein said. “And we’ve had personal interactions with them in the past, so we feel comfortable recommending them.”
In addition to giving money and supplies, she said people should reach out to their elected officials.
“What we’ve been telling people is to contact their legislators, let Washington know, let Raleigh know, that you support Ukraine, that you support maximum support of Ukraine — air space, SWIFT (global banking systems), economic sanctions, financial support to Ukraine itself, military support. So, it’s important that Washington and Congress know that their constituents support this action.”
She said they met as a board Sunday night, because UANC is realizing it must expand its role as everyone looks to it as the official organization for local Ukrainians.
And while Goldstein appreciates all the blue and yellow and that she no longer has to explain where Ukraine is, she said, “Unfortunately, it still hasn’t stopped the 40-mile convoy of armored tanks that are coming, that are 30 miles outside of Kyiv at this point.”
“It’s like watching 9/11 every day — a new 9/11 every day,” she said. “I wake up and it’s like, ‘How far have the troops gone, what city has been bombed, who has been affected?’”
Her family lives in the western part of Ukraine, which has been considered safer and is on the border with Poland, making it the natural gathering place for displaced people.
“I talked to my cousin Natalka this morning, and she said that the stores are starting to get bare shelves because we just can’t keep up with the number of people who are coming into the city,” Goldstein said.
She also said that while her group is advocating for an expedited refugee process for Ukrainians coming into the U.S., she’s not sure many Ukrainians are interested in leaving the fight.
“Part of the issue is they don’t want to leave,” Goldstein said. “My cousin Olena is a newlywed and 28 years old, and when I say, ‘What are your plans?’ She sends me pictures of her Kalashnikov and her AR.”
And as her family, and those of other Ukrainian North Carolinians, keep up the fight back home, Goldstein and UANC plans to continue their efforts in the U.S.
“There’s work we’re trying to accomplish, and as the war rages on, those needs will get higher and higher,” she said. “We’re funding a war through a bake sale.”