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Russia-Ukraine War hits close to home for Ukrainian Lincoln students

March 14, 2022

Ukrainian+students+Emily+and+James+Rehn+believe+it+is+important+to+make+sure+misinformation+is+not+spread+about+the+conflict+in+Ukraine.+This+graphic+gives+tips+on+how+to+talk+about+the+war.

Ukrainian Institute

Ukrainian students Emily and James Rehn believe it is important to make sure misinformation is not spread about the conflict in Ukraine. This graphic gives tips on how to talk about the war.

In 2014, the Ukrainian military, in the words of a non-partisan RAND report,  “existed largely on paper,” with 6000 combat troops in its ranks. In February of 2021, the number had grown to 195,000, an increase of 3,250%.

That increase was sparked by the widely condemned temporary occupation of the Crimea peninsula by the Russian government in 2014. That event and its aftermath caused large political turmoil in Eastern Ukraine, with an upwind in political movements calling for secession from Ukraine and seperatist fighters causing heavy casualties in the region.

In 2019, President Zelensky, a former comedian, won in a landslide on a platform of deconstructing corruption and having a strong stance against Russia.

That platform was tested on Feb. 24, 2022, when Ukraine was invaded by Russian forces, starting a war between the two countries. This war (as of Mar. 13, 2022) has inflicted thousands of deaths, displaced more than 2.5 million people, and caused at least 100 billion dollars in property damage— according to CBS, The Hill and Reuters respectively.

Q&A: Lincoln students host humanitarian drive for Ukraine

Siblings James and Emily Rehn, who are half Ukrainian, recently started a humanitarian drive in support of those living in Ukraine. Their mother was born in Ternopil, Ukraine, and they have a lot of family and friends who are currently living there. They traveled to Ukraine, and visited Kyiv (capital), Kharkiv (eastern city) and Lviv, Ternopil and Chernivtsi (western cities) last summer. 

Cardinal Times reporter Cate Bikales sat down with the Rehns to hear their thoughts on the conflict in Ukraine and to learn more about their humanitarian drive.

James is currently a freshman at Lincoln, and Emily is a senior. This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

What’s your opinion on how the media is portraying the conflict?

The media is doing a good job of covering the current war in Ukraine and in the western parts of the world. However, Russia and its partnering/surrounding countries are not accurately portraying what is happening. Almost all Russian news sources manipulate what their citizens see on the news. These news sources show that there is no war, no civilians are getting hurt and that the Russian army is not attacking. Everything seems to be peaceful, when, in reality, it is the opposite. Families that are separated in Russia from their families in Ukraine do not believe that there is an actual, serious, war going on. They don’t believe their family is in danger and are forced to flee the country and/or hide in a bunker, especially if their family is living in the east of Ukraine.

How has reading/hearing about the conflict made you feel?

The war in Ukraine has made us nervous and scared for everyone in Ukraine. However, we know that Ukraine is a strong country full of brave and strong citizens that will come out of this war stronger than before.

What made you decide to start the humanitarian aid package drive?

Because we have roots and connection to Ukraine, we are well aware of the impact Russian aggression brought to Ukraine and how it has affected other European countries. Ukraine, the biggest country in Europe, is a country of 44 million affected people. Displacement of many people whose homes are ruined and who were forced to flee creates humanitarian need. We have a lot of relatives in Ukraine whose communities are sheltering thousands of displaced families, and from hearing what they and other people in Ukraine are going through, we wanted to help. In addition, eastern parts of the country that border Russia are seized and whole cities like Mariupol are hostages of Russian soldiers. They are in need of water, food, medications, necessities and other aid, but it is very hard to get this aid to them at the moment. We are trying to do as much as possible to help them.  

Where will the packages be sent? 

We are using the Meest organization for shipping. Their website is us.Meest.com. It is heartwarming to see how people care and help! Meest offices currently have 581 pellets waiting to be sent by air, and they are backed up with aid at the moment and will resume accepting packages soon.

What items are you looking for?

Donations and support are always needed, and there are a few websites where donations can be sent. You can help Ukraine by making a transfer from a payment card of any bank from anywhere in the world to:

1) Transfer to the National Bank of Ukraine: 

2) Transfer to Ministry of Defense of Ukraine

  • BENEFICIARY: The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine;
  • BENEFICIARY ADDRESS: 6, Povitroflotskiy Pr., Kyiv, Ukraine, 03168
  • IBAN – UA963223130000025307010029738
  • BENEFICIARY BANK NAME: JOINT STOCK COMPANY
  • «THE STATE EXPORT-IMPORT BANK OF UKRAINE»
  • Bank Address: 127, Antonovycha Str., Kyiv, Ukraine, 03150
  • SWIFT: EXBSUAUX
  • PURPOSE OF PAYMENT (Obligatory Remittance Information): Donation for the logistic and medical support of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (UA458201720313281002302018611)

3) Transfer to Ukraine House 

  • Name on the account: Ukraine House DC Foundation
  • Account number: 435048350785
  • Routings number: 051000017
  • Zelle transfer: [email protected]

4) Humanitarian Aid:

  • United Help Ukraine
  • Razom for Ukraine (Together we are Ukraine)
  • Ukrainian Congress Committee of America
  • Come Back Alive
  • US Ukrainian Activists
  • Revived Soldiers Ukraine

Right now, big demand for medical supplies:

https://meest.com/uploads/elFinder/US/aid/PRIORITY-ITEMS-FOR-HUMANITARIAN-RELIEF.pdf

We are looking for: 

  • Non-perishable food (a big demand)
  • Clothes and footwear for men/women/children
  • Thermal underwear
  • Hygiene products (women’s products, diapers, etc.)
  • Blankets & Bedding
  • Tableware (disposable)
  • First aid and first aid kits
  • Tents, sleeping bags, mattresses
  • Stand alone lamps & candles
  • Containers for liquids (canisters for water, fuel, lubricants with capacity of 10-20 liters)
  • Protective gear (helmets, bulletproof vests, tactical backpacks, dry rations)
  • For a full list, we recommend checking out the list on MEEST’s website, the organization we will be using the send the items to Ukraine

How much have you collected so far?

We have collected many boxes with many different assorted items, including clothes, shoes, food, toiletries, sleeping bags and more. We have already shipped about 25-30 boxes through the Meest organization in Portland. After sorting out last week’s donations, we’ve collected an additional 23 boxes that will be sent to stranded families in Kyiv, Ternopil and/or Lviv shelters for displaced families.

When is the drive ending, and where should people deliver items?

The drive ended this past week, so there will be no more boxes, but if anyone still has items that they want to donate, they can bring it to the office for James Rehn and say it is for Ukrainian humanitarian aid. It will then be picked up and delivered to a warehouse to ship out. We will also follow requested needs lists from organizations and people in Ukraine and will keep our community posted about them.

 What other ways can the Lincoln community help?

The best way to help is by keeping awareness, educating yourself on what is happening, donating what you can and supporting the idea of democracy and freedom around the world. 

What are you hoping to see change in the future?

We are hoping to see democracy and freedom win over the fascism and imperialism that takes away human rights from people. This war is not just the Russian war against Ukraine. Ukraine has fought against Russian aggressions on their own land for many years, and, while fighting for their human rights and democracy, they have also helped and contributed to the Western civilized world by constructing their democracy and freedom. We see the world’s democratic civilization united together in the fight against corruption against the limitations of others rights and cultures. We see Ukraine fighting for and defending their country in order to live and exist freely in their own nation. The whole world is standing up for the protection of human rights for the Ukrainian people against Putin’s immoral vision and aggression. We hope this unity won’t end, and that not only will the people of Ukraine’s freedom be respected, but also that everyone will be able to learn to accept people, whether it be their differences in cultures, or their difference in religions, nationalities, races or more. 

Guest Essays: On the war in Ukraine

Below are two guest essays from friends of the Rehns: Diana Kimak and Diana Sobolieva. Both of their families are currently in Ukraine. Kimak recently went back to be with her family during this time. Sobolieva is at Williams College in Massachusetts. 

These essays have been edited for clarity. 

 

Diana Kimak

Kimak is 18 years old and was born in and lives in Chernivtsi, Ukraine. She is currently a freshman at LCC International University in Lithuania.

Mar. 5 was supposed to be the day when I would come back home on spring break and see my family. However, the morning of Feb. 24 changed my life, priorities and dreams drastically.

There is nothing worse than finding out a war has started in your country and not knowing whether your family is still alive, especially while you are in another country. The dialing never seemed so long as when I was calling my loved ones to check whether they were okay. In one moment, all the worries about the upcoming midterms and the excitement about my trip home were replaced by uncertainty, helplessness and anxiousness.

When I realized I was abroad at the time when my home country is being bombed and Ukrainians are being killed, I felt guilt. It was consuming me from the inside, and the first two days I couldn’t do anything but watch the news, call my parents every two hours and share my pain with other students from Ukraine on campus. On the third day of the war, the majority of Ukrainian students gathered together, and we all decided that we needed to do everything we could to make sure we had a home to come back to.

That’s how we started our Ukraine Care Initiative, which is a student-led initiative that aims to organize fundraising events, help refugees from Ukraine in Lithuania and organize peaceful protests against the war. Being busy helps me avoid reading news all the time and makes me feel like I contribute to my dear Ukrainian community. Since the war started, my mission has become clear: I have to be there for my people and my country, even if I’m physically in another country. 

The state Ukraine is in right now breaks my heart: people I know have to sleep in bomb shelters/basements, pay attention to every sound because it might be the siren, run to a store as fast as possible so they don’t get killed by a missile, go without some medicine they need just because they can’t get it, worry whether they will ever see their homes ever again when evacuating and so much more.

Feb. 24 became a day when all the Ukrainians became united by a shared dream—to be able to defend their country and families. The Russian leader’s imperialistic plans have made Ukraine even stronger and more determined. I am proud to be a Ukrainian because this nation is unbreakable. We would rather die than be enslaved by a dictator. 

 

Diana Sobolieva

Sobolieva is 20 years old and was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine. She is currently a freshman at Williams College.

For a long time, I did not believe that war could happen. There had been a lot of coverage of Ukraine in the past month, especially saying that Russia was collecting troops at the border and that an attack was imminent. Still, I could not believe this was possible.

But then, late Wednesday night, I was finishing my work shift in the library when my friend texted me, “Diana. Diana. The war has started.” I could not believe this was true because for a long time I rejected the possibility of an invasion—especially such a full-scale war, with attacks not only on the regions close to the Russian border but also in Central and Western Ukraine. For the first week of the war, I could not function as I could before. It just seemed to me that the war was surreal and that it was a bad dream. I felt like soon I would wake up and see my country as it was before: peaceful and carefree. But this did not happen. 

My new morning routine became checking in with my family and reading dozens of news reports. I am following multiple Telegram channels led by the government or by Ukrainian citizens who share videos of the city’s destruction. Even watching the videos of places that are bombed and reminiscing on the walks I had there feels surreal. But, unfortunately, what is happening is true. 

I still cannot believe that the war has been going on for more than two weeks now. I feel really proud of being Ukrainian and the courage of our people. So many people right now are doing anything they can to resist the invaders. They are enlisting in the army, donating, volunteering, joining the cyber army and opening their homes for people evacuating from war. I know that even though many of our cities are being destroyed, many people, including me, will be willing to rebuild the city and make Ukraine even more beautiful than it was before. 

It often feels unfair that I am staying safe in this tiny town in Massachusetts while my family is in danger. I don’t feel the effects of war in this rural town. People are living their regular lives, laughing, smiling and stressing over exams. It is hard to also live this life when you know that your friends and family are facing constant danger and wake up at night to the sounds of shelling. The war has completely changed my perspective on life, and I don’t think I will be able to look at things the same way again.

First of all, I feel uneasy learning about philosophy or art history knowing that, somewhere in the world, people are suffering. I don’t think we realize how privileged we are not only to have access to good education, but also to be able to fully focus on it. Even when the war in Ukraine ends, I will still keep this in mind as I go through life.

Second, I realized the importance of trivial things in life, such as walking to school everyday or riding a bus. I have been deprived of these simple things, and I am not sure I will be able to do the same things again.

Third, I realized how insignificant conflicts and misunderstandings between friends can be. The most important thing is to do everything you can to help the other person, and make sure that everyone is alive and safe. 

I also want to reach out to American students and urge them to recognize this privilege of education and being in the right environment to take full advantage of this education. Please know that safety and peace should not be taken for granted. Not every country in the world is lucky to be peaceful. Also, I would like to encourage you to do what you can to help Ukraine. Please donate money to nonprofits, write letters to your reps asking to support Ukraine, sign petitions, attend or organize rallies and share truthful information about the war. Every voice counts! 

P.S. My friend and I started a GoFundMe page to collect donations and buy humanitarian support for Ukraine: https://gofund.me/40a7a7c7, which we will ship through Nova Poshta Global. We would appreciate your help and spreading the word!

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