BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, dynamics around the world have changed and assistance to the region is still needed.
For Alona Matchenko, co-founder of Toledo Helps Ukraine (THU), it has meant a great deal to her to help fellow Ukrainians during this time.
Matchenko was born in Ukraine and moved to the United States for school. She settled down, started a family and now has a business in the area, but with the escalation in the war between Ukraine and Russia, she has devoted time to helping her home country through the nonprofit THU.
“Ukrainians are a nation of people with special abilities to work efficiently, to multitask and to use a little ‘elbow grease’ as the saying in America goes. I believe this is a unique talent our opponents do not share,” Matchenko said about the resilience of Ukrainians.
In the time since Toledo Helps Ukraine has started, with the help of volunteers and community members, the organization has been able to provide Ukrainians with food, medicine, clothing and other essential supplies.
“With a team of only a few people, but overwhelming support from local media, the community and government officials, THU organized two fundraising events within two-and-a-half months, raising thousands of dollars as a small organization to support Ukraine and filled an entire trailer full of goods to be shipped overseas to Ukraine,” Matchenko said.
The fundraisers were able to provide more than $100,000 in aid to Ukrainians. The work required to complete an undertaking as large as this was not easy, though.
Matchenko had to take on several new roles in order to arrange for the shipment. Coordinating storage locations, loading the container, filing paperwork and maintaining a leadership position were all required of her.
“It’s not all me, though. It’s constant community support,” she said.
That support from the community also helped Matchenko when she returned to Ukraine in May to provide supplies for her family and other Ukrainians. Matchenko brought six suitcases full of necessary supplies like over-the-counter medication and gear for soldiers – such as kneepads, shirts and boots.
Matchenko traveled in cooperation with two journalists to Hungary and then went across the border into Ukraine, where the supplies were distributed to family, friends, hospitals and military bases. From Ukraine, THU went to Poland, where money raised by Toledo-area residents was used to purchase 20 tons in supplies, including food, that was then distributed back in Ukraine.
“It was very scary. The sirens were going off all over, but it was a very rewarding experience overall,” Matchenko said.
When THU was created, three goals were outlined and the aid was only part of goal one – which was to raise awareness, funds and supplies.
“Now, we are shifting to our second goal, welcoming Ukrainians to Ohio,” Matchenko said.
THU is not a placement agency, but Matchenko, along with several other team members, are ready to help Ukrainians find the help they need during the process of coming to the United States.
For some, they’ll need assistance finding temporary places to stay, funds to support the move or even help with paperwork. The BMV is one place Matchenko has noticed a need – understanding the proper paperwork required and how to submit it can be confusing, especially for those whose native language is not English.
Aside from goals one and two, THU is simultaneously working on goal three – assisting in rebuilding the country of Ukraine.
“We plan to set up a special account to accumulate funds to rebuild,” Matchenko said. “I know we can rebuild at least a school, and people throughout the whole world will know what Toledo can do.”
Matchenko has emphasized the importance of helping, regardless of location, and since the creation of Toledo Helps Ukraine, the process to help has been made much easier. There is now a website, toledohelpsukraine.org, which has links for donating, volunteering and sponsoring refugees.
Also on the website is contact information, which includes the best way to offer suggestions or help to the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We as humans are made to support each other,” Matchenko said. “We are not indifferent to pain.”
Assistance for the organization in any way is always appreciated, but awareness also helps, Matchenko said. To keep updated on future fundraisers or other ways to help, THU can be found on Facebook or at toledohelpsukraine.org.