The war in Ukraine may be thousands of miles away, but the distance does not preclude the Whitman and Walla Walla communities from feeling its effects. First-year Basil Shevtsov has personal ties to Ukraine. His parents immigrated to the U.S. and many of his extended family members still reside in Ukraine.
Shevtsov and a friend put up posters around campus with a QR code to raise awareness and list organizations where people can send donations. He also flies a Ukrainian flag outside his window in Lyman House.
“I’m proud to be Ukrainian and it felt like a more appropriate time than ever to fly the flag,” Shevstov said.
Shevtsov is not the only member of the Whitman community seeking to raise awareness of the atrocities being inflicted upon Ukraine. Greg Lecki, Director of International Scholar and Student Services, also has personal connections with eastern Europe: as a Polish immigrant, he has been facilitating exchange programs for Eastern European students for more than a decade since working at the Ohio State University.
In an email to The Wire, Lecki said that although only a handful of Eastern Europeans are at Whitman, they have been able to come together to support one another.
“I think this terrible war has brought us all together… When I think about these days, I believe I was also helping myself to stay sane. I needed to do something,” he said.
Lecki says that there are 200-300 Ukrainians that reside in Walla Walla who he’d like to reunite with their relatives, who are now refugees in Poland. However, this process is very costly and many of the refugees have no U.S. visa, meaning they would need to get to Mexico and claim refugee status at the U.S. border.
“I know Ukrainian families in Walla Walla that would like to bring their relatives but they simply cannot afford it,” Lecki said. “This may be something where we all need to step up and help.”
Right from the start of the war, Lecki wanted to donate money but found the process to be very difficult. He wanted to be sure the money went directly to the places where it was needed most. So, taking matters into his own hands, he decided to set up a GoFundMe page so those who wanted to donate did not have to experience the same difficulties that he encountered.
After finding that GoFundMe does not operate well internationally, Lecki partnered with a non-profit organization in Ohio called the American Polish Club (APC), where he had volunteered as treasurer for many years. He has found much more success through his collaboration with the APC.
“This allowed us to send 100 percent of collected money to an NGO in Poland called Polish Humanitarian Action. This money goes towards supplying Ukrainian refugees with food, clothes etc. As you may know, most of these refugees arrived in Poland with just a small bag,” Lecki said.
Proceeds from his GoFundMe will go directly to the Polish Humanitarian Action, a non-governmental organization to aid displaced Ukrainian families seeking asylum in Poland. Eventually, Lecki would see some of the funds to support Walla Walla locals who want to bring their relatives in Ukraine to the U.S.
“If we collect a substantial amount,” Lecki said, “we may want to direct this in some equitable way to the families in Walla Walla to help resettle their relatives.”
So far, Lecki says he has raised $5000, though he recognizes that this contribution is minor, he knows that the Polish Humanitarian Action will utilize the funds appropriately. Most of the funds have come from fewer people in large amounts rather than from a greater number of small donations, and Lecki says this means that more awareness is needed. Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, thousands of Ukrainian civilians have died and millions more have fled the country.