• Thu. Mar 23rd, 2023


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Ukrainians far from the front lines drop everything to join war effort

Zhluktenko, a 27-year-old software engineer who worked in marketing, collected more than half a ton of toys in recent weeks, a mix of plastic action figures and stuffed animals, which he hoped had brought some relief to Ukrainian children who have lost their homes and been scarred by the war. He’s organized a truck from Luxembourg to Lviv bringing another 20 pallets of toys, as well.

But his main passion is supporting the war effort. He has already used up about $40,000, the money he and his partner saved in hopes of opening a bike shop, to buy drones, batteries, mine detectors and other essential items to send to their childhood schoolmates who are now in the military. He quit his job to focus on this effort entirely, and he has raised another $50,000 through small donations over PayPal to help cover the costs. 

“I’m not able to join the military, but I know that I can be most effective here,” he said, adding that his partner is able to keep working to support them while he dedicates himself to this logistics effort. “I just do what I can here to push the Russians out of our borders, to help people who actually do it.”

Zhluktenko has built a meandering supply line run by friends and acquaintances that stretches across central and Western Europe. He orders the gear to their apartments, and it’s then driven to the Polish border, where a few Ukrainian drivers bring it into Ukraine. 

All the Ukrainian drivers are female. Ukrainian men between ages 18 and 60 cannot leave the country and thus are not able to carry the supplies. 

Zhluktenko then packs everything up at his house in Lviv, sometimes from the bunker he built in the basement if an air raid siren rings. Typically, he adds a pack of cigarettes and some chocolates to each package.

When asked whether he believed the West should do more, so he and other individual Ukrainians didn’t have to shoulder so much of the burden, Zhluktenko shrugged. 

“I don’t really care,” he said. “History will say who was the friend of Ukraine.”

April 21, 202204:15

Being on the right side of history has long driven Melaniya Podolyak. 

But she didn’t expect her career to take her from working as a staffer in Ukraine’s parliament and political activist in Kyiv to operating a military and humanitarian aid warehouse for volunteer fighters. 

Podolyak, who can often be found trying to stay warm in the warehouse she operates outside Lviv, wearing a Carhartt jacket and tugging on a vape, has a small volunteer force that she directs. These warehouse workers are doctors, architects, IT specialists, financial analysts and other professionals who have put their careers on hold or found time to work here during the war. 

Though they lacked experience, together they’ve figured out how to efficiently empty trucks of boxes, organize supplies and repack buses headed for Kharkiv, Kyiv, Mariupol and other cities hit by Russian attacks. 

While she said she couldn’t say exactly how she had gotten supplies to some cities under Russian occupation, she admitted she was part of a group that organized a drone to drop a satellite phone to defenders in Mariupol a few weeks ago. 

“If I could, I’d ship them a tank,” she said.

But what irritates her is that Ukraine is still left pleading for help from abroad. 

“I hate the fact that we have to beg for stuff — like we have to beg for jets, we have to beg for anti-aircraft systems, we have to beg for tourniquets, and the same goes for humanitarian supplies,” Podolyak said. “We shouldn’t have to beg. All of that stuff should be waiting for us.” 

“I know the world doesn’t owe us anything, but they also kind of do for fighting,” she said.

It’s a burden that Ukrainians of all stripes have taken on, fluctuating between frustration with the West and working with their fellow Ukrainians to do what they can.