SARASOTA – Shortly after the Russians bombed kyiv, Bohdana Zimich left her home and her job as a personal assistant to move in with her sister Katya Grybovska and her two children Max and Polina in the village of Byshiv, about 40 miles away southwest of the capital.
After Russian bombs destroyed the town center – including the school where Max, 7, and Polina, 5, attended – the family fled further west to their parents’ house. with the aim of fleeing the country via Poland.
Last Saturday evening, the family – along with their aunt, Sarasota resident Zhanna Holivii, with whom they have lived since late March – attended a fundraising program hosted by the Sara Dance Center that included ballroom dance displays, a performance of the Ukrainian national anthem sung by Nataliya Bratash, Maryna Savage and Nadia Sawa, and brief discussions by representatives of non-profit organizations raising funds for Ukrainian war aid.
Holivii said she had friends in Poland where her nieces and children stayed.
“They found them accommodation to rent in Krakow; they stayed in Krakow for two weeks,” she added.
Then, after speaking with State Department officials at the US Embassy in Warsaw, the family received tourist visas to travel to Florida and stay with their aunt.
Grybovska, who worked in a factory that made laundry ingredients, still contacts her husband on a daily basis – who stayed behind to help defend the country.
Despite the ongoing war, civil communication is still available between those who remained in Ukraine and those who left for safety in other countries, including Zimich, Grybovska and children.
“Now they can apply for temporary status,” Holivii said. This means an opportunity to study in the United States for up to two years, she added.
Zimich said it was too early to tell when they might return.
Based on the outpouring of support Saturday night, the entire Eastern European community on Florida’s west coast, from North Port north to St. Petersburg, embraced Ukrainian refugees in the area.
Overhearing a conversation between the family and a journalist, Olga Akroush – a friend of event organizer Ruta Jouniari who left Ukraine 20 years ago – said she wanted to help the young family.
She too has family in Ukraine and can keep in touch via the Internet, Facebook or the Viber video chat app.
“It takes a village to help a village”
Jouniari, a Massachusetts native whose parents emigrated from Lithuania, said no donation was too small to help.
“It takes a village to help a village,” Jouniari said. “If one of us gives $10, $5, $1,000 – tourniquets, it all helps one way or another.”
She noted how her employer, Dr. Barry Gordon, a retired emergency physician from Ohio who now operates the Compassionate Cannabis Clinic in Venice, worked with six area pharmacies in Bradenton, Sarasota, Venice and North Port to ship almost $700,000 in used drugs. in emergency medical care in Ukraine.
“We saw our supplies in the hands of the soldiers,” Gordon said in a brief speech that included the revelation from his sister, the family genealogy expert, that their great-grandmother was from Lviv.
“It affects us all because it is a fight for freedom,” he added later.
This fight for freedom prompted the Ukrainian Project Inc., the non-profit organization responsible for the Ukrainian Festival in Orlando, to quickly shift from a cultural awareness goal to fundraising to prevent what many have called Saturday of potential genocide.
“The plans were for pleasant and happy things. Then the war started,” said Vasyl Boichook, co-founder and vice president of the Orland-based nonprofit.
A three-day festival was scheduled for February 25-27 in Apopka.
“And on the 24th the war started,” Boichook said. “Instead of dancing merrily, we changed the songs we were singing and made it into a fundraising rally.”
The non-profit organization has both raised funds to pay for medical supplies or vehicle repairs to benefit the Ukrainian military and donated between $30,000 and $40,000 in cash to help.
“It’s hard to ship body armor,” Boichook said. “It’s easy for them to get it in Europe.”
The non-profit organization works with Ukrainian army commanders or territorial defense commanders to determine exactly what is needed and, in most cases, purchases these items and ships them to Ukraine.
“We like to control every dollar where it goes,” Boichook said.
Locally, the association is represented by Bratash, the singer.
Funds raised through Saturday night’s admission, as well as the sale of home-cooked food, went to the Ukrainian Project Inc.
More information about the group on https://www.ukrainianfestivalorlando.org.
Jaroslaw Palylyk, chairman of Westchester, New York, branch of the Ukrainian Congress of America Committee, argued that the Russian attack was part of an effort to recreate the former Soviet Union.
“It’s not the reunification of Russian speakers with the homeland,” Palylyk said of the justifications Russian leaders used for the invasion. “This is not the liberation of Russians from a Nazi regime.
“If Russia saves Ukraine, why are all Ukrainians fleeing west and not east?”
Holivii noted that at least four families from Byshiv have fled to her parents’ town because it is closer to the Polish border, where they too will seek refuge.
“They are like refugees,” she added.
Adelia Moyano, a Bradenton woman who recently returned from a personal mission to bring aid to Ukraine, said she was still jet lagged from the return trip. Moyano, who is not affiliated with any nonprofit or nongovernmental organization, used her personal savings to help.
“I just bought a ticket, rented a car and left,” said Moyano, who spent 20 days in Ukraine delivering medical supplies or shoes to soldiers and transporting refugees to safety.
“I have so many stories,” she said, then added that a common refrain, unfortunately, was “I had 15 minutes to put my life together.”
Earle Kimel primarily covers southern Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be reached at [email protected] Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.