BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — The people of Ukraine have dealt with a long history of invasions, but in recent weeks, millions of Ukrainian residents have either been forced to flee their homes or stay and fight due to escalations.
A Russian invasion has led to devastating effects felt across the world, and Alona Matchenko, a current Northwest Ohio resident, is aiming to help.
Matchenko, along with Hope Luther, founded the nonprofit organization Toledo Helps Ukraine.
She came to the United States from Ukraine in 2016 in order to improve her education and receive experience in her field before returning home. Her plans changed when she met her husband. Matchenko is now a mother, law student and business owner who has chosen to remain in the Toledo area.
“Even though this is a little community, the Toledo community, it’s very welcoming. It’s my second home now,” Matchenko said.
She wanted to channel the help of those in the area to provide for the people of Ukraine after the initial invasion – which happened on her brother’s birthday.
“My family, who lived in Ukraine at the moment, woke up and were completely disoriented, knowing that there were bombs around them. It’s not something a kid wants to hear on their birthday morning,” Matchenko said.
Her parents and siblings were able to cross the border into Poland, but they remain stuck in limbo – they do not have passports or any of their belongings. Several other family members of Matchenko remain in Ukraine.
After seeing the uncertain position her family is in, Matchenko spoke with her mother and figured out a way to help, a way for the people of Toledo to help.
“We are concentrating on three main goals,” Matchenko said. “The first and most immediate one is to collect supplies and ship them directly from the city of Toledo to New Jersey. New Jersey will ship it to surrounding border countries.”
Humanitarian corridors are typically established to allow civilians to evacuate during war and for humanitarian aid to be delivered. However, many of these areas have not been honored, so the supplies will be sent to larger cities closest to the border of Ukraine and distributed from there to locations in need, including hospitals, schools and government buildings.
A list of needed items can be found on the Toledo Helps Ukraine Facebook page. The list will be amended as new needs are established.
The group is working on creating more drop-off locations, but one is currently set up at the Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, 1500 Timberwolf Dr., in Holland. The group is hosting a donation dive there on Saturday, March 26 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
“Our second goal is to develop a system in Northwest Ohio where we will be able to host and welcome refugees from Ukraine,” Matchenko said.
The system in the United States is not yet set up in a way to accept large numbers of Ukrainian refugees, something Matchenko is hoping the government will change soon. She and her co-founder have met with several government officials to talk about each step they are taking in order to best help Ukrainians. When the time comes for Ukrainian refugees to make their way to places like Toledo, the organization will be ready to support them in any way it can.
“Our third goal is to rebuild the country of Ukraine,” Matchenko said. “Not necessarily the whole country, but I know the people of Northwest Ohio are able to get together, collect the funds and maybe rebuild one of the schools or hospitals that have been destroyed.”
The members of Toledo Helps Ukraine are currently working on a website and establishing a method to collect donations using credit cards and other online payments. The organization is currently accepting checks to collect the funds needed for rebuilding and support.
One of the many ways individuals can help is by volunteering their time and services. The organization is looking for help with the website and social media.
The newly created nonprofit has also received help from several groups, including Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick LLP, which represents the organization’s interests, and those at Water for Ishmael, which helped the organization obtain its nonprofit status.
“Being a law student, I had a very supportive faculty and they were able to support me and organize a rally,” Matchenko said.
The University of Toledo faculty and students helped with a rally of more than 400 people and have continued to support Matchenko during this time.
Aside from the groups already mentioned, several other organizations and individuals – both from Northwest Ohio and Ukraine – have been instrumental in helping Toledo Helps Ukraine become established, Matchenko said. They include Megan Mattimoe, Julianne Waclaw-ski, Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshun, Fr. Steven from the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Rossford, Perrysburg’s council and mayor and many more.
“I don’t even know everyone who has helped, I’m sure I am forgetting some. Everybody has gotten together to help us on our mission,” Matchenko said. “We are endlessly thankful for these people. We get hundreds of emails a day. It’s delightful to see the community get together.”
To receive more information about donation locations and ideas, volunteer opportunities and more, people can visit the Toledo Helps Ukraine Facebook page, where they can then sign up for the email list. Questions can also be sent to email@example.com.
Any help the community can provide is important and necessary for the organization’s mission.
“In the United States, we have a voice and that voice can be heard. Everyone, every citizen of this independent country, can be heard. Please use your voices,” Matchenko said.