April 13, 2022

Northern Michigan Unites in Support of Ukraine

Anastasiya Zubaryeva (left) and Maddy Killen (right) at a protest against the Russian Invasion, at the Open Space in TC on March 19.

Kyle Hoffman
Assistant Editor

Blue and yellow Ukrainian flags billow in the breeze above farmhouses and businesses throughout the Grand Traverse region. Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian people in the area have come together on multiple occasions to raise support for Ukraine since Russia invaded the country on Feb. 24. Events like demonstrations at the Open Space, church fundraisers with Ukrainian food, and online fundraisers have raised substantial awareness, support, and money. 
    For weeks, more than 10 million Ukrainians have been displaced from their homes as they flee from the Russian invasion. Many Ukrainians have been, and still are, in desperate need of food, clothes, shelter, and money, among other things. The local community has mobilized in great volume to provide any support that they can for Ukraine.
    “At the church, what we do is send money to [other] churches helping displaced people,” Vitale Pavlishin, the pastor of the Ukrainian Slavic Evangelical Church in Grawn said. “It’s millions of people, so it’s very hard to accommodate. There’s no power or money or places for the government to do this, so it’s mostly churches.”
    Sending money to provide Ukrainian churches with the means to provide specific support has been particularly effective.
    “Even small churches, they buy flour and make bread themselves, or buy whole cows or whole pigs and either feed people who come to them or send it to Eastern Ukraine,” Pavlishin said.
    Support can be hard to provide, though. Some Ukrainian cities are surrounded by Russian forces and it can be particularly difficult to get supplies in. The Ukrainian Slavic Evangelical Church in Grawn sends supplies to a church in Cleveland that used to send supplies directly to Ukraine, but they are now forced to send support to Poland, which attempts to get supplies in from there.
    Pavlishin estimates that at least 400-500 Ukrainian people live in the Grand Traverse region, but support has come from everywhere in the community. Events initiated by Ukrainian residents have been met with large participation from the non-Ukrainian community.
    “I think there has been mostly non-Ukrainians helping,” Pavlishin said. “At a fundraising event we held, probably around 2,000 people showed up from our local community, and it was mostly non-Ukrainian people.”
    Grand Traverse County has a population of around 96,000 people, but the turnout for some of the events has exceeded expectations.
    “There has been tremendous support, much more than we expected,” Pavlishin said. “When we announced the fundraiser, we expected maybe 400-500 people would show up, and when 2,000 people showed up we were just overwhelmed.”
    At the March 5 event, Ukrainian church members made about 2,500 servings of traditional Ukrainian food for the event, including cabbage rolls, mashed potatoes, and red beet soup (borscht). The event raised about $50,000.
    “People were making stuff, we had to go to the store to get more supplies and make more food and more food,” Pavlishin said. “It was a great turnout, great community response, and we appreciate everyone who did it.”
    Beyond the church, many Ukrainians in the area are finding other ways to provide as much support as they can. Anastasiya Zubaryeva is just one example. She is a former NMC student, and is currently a full-time student working towards her master’s degree in physician assistant studies at Le Moyne University in New York, but she has devoted her full attention towards raising funds and awareness. 
    She and her mother live in the United States, but the rest of her family lives in Ukraine. Many of her cousins and childhood best friends are still in her hometown of Mykolaiv, a Black Sea port city targeted by Russian forces.
    “The biggest need that my family and friends require is financial support to buy groceries. The prices of food have tripled,” Zubaryeva said. “The local supermarket was bombed on April 3, now people will have to travel farther to find groceries.”
    Zubaryeva’s friends and family need money—and she is providing. She set up a spotfund, where donations are sent to friends, families, and soldiers in need of support in Mykolaiv. As of April 7, the fundraiser had raised $7,585, including four donations of $500, and 30 donations of at least $100. In addition, Zubaryeva has spread awareness of her fundraiser, church fundraisers, and the situation in Mykolaiv through an interview with Up North Live/7&4 News, a column  featured in the March 3 issue of the White Pine Press, protesting the war in the Open Space in Traverse City, and constant social media posts.
    “I never expected this amount of support from the community,” Zubaryeva said. “We could all do more donating, praying, and verbally supporting the Ukrainian population in our community.”
    Zubaryeva’s fundraiser can be found on her social media accounts across most platforms, by searching “SupportForMykolaivUkraine” on spotfund.com, or at http://spot.fund/I2Cwx.
    As many of the world’s goals of peace look less and less attainable, the love and support hasn’t stopped.
    “I have a lot of passion for people.“ Pavlishin said. “To me, it doesn’t matter if it is Ukrainian people, Russian people, Americans, or Libyans, whoever. I don’t have any anger against Russia. I understand that people are brainwashed, and they don’t know their actual picture.”
    While those in Traverse City have the privilege of helping from the outside, many Ukrainians in the warzone have been displaced or killed along the way. The Washington Post estimates an exodus of 4.5 million Ukrainian refugees. Accurate death tolls are unavailable, but Ukraine has opened 5,600 war crime cases.
    “On social media, my posts have been removed several times due to the content being graphic,” Zubaryeva said. “Unfortunately, there are so many people dying and that’s the reality of this situation, there is so much brutality, inhumanity, and death that is not being talked about.”
    As the tragic, brutal war continues, love and support for Ukraine continues to unite the local area.
    “Thank you to everybody for their tremendous support, help, donations, and their warm hearts towards the Ukrainian people,” Pavlishin said. “From the depth of my heart, thank you to everyone who donated, it is a great community we are living in.”