Colorado is approximately 5,811 miles from Ukraine, a distance that can make it difficult for Centennial Staters to know how to help Ukranians as Russian troops invade their country. But these three Colorado residents have nonetheless found impactful ways to support humanitarian causes. And their altruism may just inspire you to lend a hand, too.
Denver resident Ryan Grabowski has never met his coworker’s mom, Dorota Hawryla. But that hasn’t stopped Grabowski from raising more than $9,000 on GoFundMe to support Hawryla’s efforts to house Ukrainian refugees.
Hawryla lives about 15 miles away from the Ukrainian border in Lutowiska, Poland. When refugees started arriving in Lutowiska following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, Hawryla converted one of her Airbnb properties into a free bed and breakfast for people fleeing the war. To date, she’s hosted about 40 folks, including a number of children; recently, she housed 11 people at once, according to Grabowski.
“I just try to do the best I can, but it’s very hard for one person [to] take care of 11 people,” Hawryla said in a video shared by Grabowski. “But with your help, with your donation, I can do more and more and more.” That includes buying nutritious food, clothes, and shoes for the refugees and also giving them money to travel further west to safety. Recently, Grabowski expanded the GoFundMe to include details on how people can donate warm weather clothing to the folks staying with Hawryla, since many of them only packed winter attire when fleeing Ukraine.
Grabowski, a facility manager for a cannabis company, felt compelled to start the GoFundMe because of his own family’s experience escaping war. Grabowski’s great grandparents were killed in Nazi Germany’s 1939 blitzkrieg of Poland, and his grandfather was taken into a Nazi work camp. The camp was eventually liberated by British troops, and a Catholic church in the U.S. then gave money to Grabowski’s grandpa and his family that allowed them to immigrate here.
“Dorota is doing an amazing job just helping people as much as she can,” says Grabowski. “I just wanted to help her as much as I can with whatever she needed.”
Aurora resident Irina Shatalov is originally from Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city. Shatalov moved to the U.S. in 2010 with her husband, who is also from Kyiv, but many of her family members and friends remain in Ukraine, including her grandmother and six cousins, as well as aunts and uncles. Since February 24, the day that Russia invaded Ukraine, Shatalov says her family members check in with each other via phone every morning and evening. “We just need to hear that we are OK, we are safe, we are still alive,” says Shatalov. “I have to be strong and work a lot to help them.”
That work includes efforts through Ukrainians of Colorado, a nonprofit organization on which Shatalov serves as a board member. Ukrainians of Colorado recently partnered with Project C.U.R.E., a Colorado-based medical supply provider nonprofit, to collect money and send medical supplies to Ukraine. These supplies are shipped to centers in Warsaw or Krakow in Poland and then distributed to the Polish-Ukrainian border, where they are transferred to Lviv and then to other cities in Ukraine, explains Shatalov. According to the Ukrainians of Colorado website, Project C.U.R.E. is using $200,000 that was donated in the name of Ukrainians of Colorado to purchase quick clot bandages, combat tourniquets, and individual first aid trauma kits.
Ukrainians of Colorado has also had several private meetings with Governor Polis and senators to discuss expanding refugee laws, says Shatalov, whose husband is from Kyiv as well. “We live so far from Europe, from Ukraine,” says Shatalov. But the war there will impact all of us–if not emotionally, then at least economically, she says. “That’s why I think we all have to be united and do something.”
This unification includes children, believes Shatalov, who has a 10-year-old son. As a board member for Heritage Heights Academy, a charter school in Centennial, Shatalov organized a letter-writing project where students at the school share drawings and words of encouragement with Ukrainian children. About 350 Colorado kids are participating in the project, says Shatalov, and their letters will be placed in aid bags sent to refugee children.
Shatalov invites fellow Coloradans to join the humanitarian efforts by donating through the Ukrainians of Colorado website or through Project C.U.R.E. They can also learn about fundraising events and volunteer for various positions through the Ukrainians of Colorado site.
Called to Help
For Alexandra Holt, a waitress at Pete’s Kitchen in Denver, the atrocities in Ukraine have hit close to home. “I’ve obviously witnessed many wars sitting in the comfort of my home in the United States,” says Holt, who is also a certified nursing assistant. “But for some reason, this one just felt really personal to me.”
A born-and-raised-Coloradan with Russian heritage, Holt feels compelled to help close to the front lines of the crisis. So Holt and a coworker are hoping to travel to Eastern Europe for two to three months this summer with United Planet, an organization that arranges volunteer trips across the globe. Details aren’t confirmed yet–and Holt says plans are temporarily on pause due to increasing nuclear warfare threats–but the experience would cost Holt about $2,000 and likely involve handing out hygiene supplies at border crossings or assisting in Romanian or Polish hospitals.
In the meantime, Holt, a mother of two teenagers, remains glued to public radio for news about Ukraine. She feels especially upset over the thought of refugees getting separated from their families and not knowing if their loved ones are safe. “I cannot even fathom what these people are going through,” she says. “[Helping them] is just something I really feel I need to do.”