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Trudy Rubin: At Christmastime, here’s a way to help Ukrainian civilians under Russian fire

From the commentary: At a time when Russia is brutally targeting Ukrainian civilians, I can think of nothing more in keeping with the Christmas spirit than to aid these courageous people.

Members of the public walk past destroyed buildings on Nov. 14, 2022, in Borodyanka, Ukraine.
Members of the public walk past destroyed buildings on Nov. 14, 2022, in Borodyanka, Ukraine.
(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images/TNS)
We are part of The Trust Project.

As Christmas approaches, readers have asked me how they can donate to charities that are helping Ukrainians.

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At a time when Russia is brutally targeting Ukrainian civilians, I can think of nothing more in keeping with the Christmas spirit than to aid these courageous people.

Many large U.S. charities are now operating in Ukraine. But I prefer to recommend smaller, more hands-on organizations, particularly Ukraine TrustChain , which funds teams of brave Ukrainian volunteers who deliver aid to the most damaged regions of the country, and whose stellar work I saw in person when I visited in July.

In view of the terrible injuries inflicted by Russia on Ukrainian kids — and soldiers — I will add to the list the U.S. charities Unbreakable , a prosthesis program for wounded children, and Revived Soldiers Ukraine , which helps wounded soldiers.

As we sit in our comfortable homes, watching Ukrainians fight off a despot who also threatens us, the least we can do is try to allay some of the suffering he has caused.

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Ukraine TrustChain (ukrainetrustchain.org) was founded at the start of the war by two Ukrainian American childhood friends who had emigrated from Kyiv to Chicago and Philadelphia, respectively, when they were 10 years old.

Their concept was to find team leaders among people they or their friends trusted in Ukraine, and have those volunteers build regional networks of people they trusted in turn. TrustChain would raise money for the teams, which would bring aid into areas under Russian attack, and help evacuate those who sought to flee.

There is almost no overhead since the money raised here goes directly to the teams, and there is an endless stream of Ukrainians — from professionals to plumbers — ready to help those worse off than themselves.

I saw the process in action in July when I traveled with team leader Kseniia Kalmus, a former Kyiv florist-turned-volunteer. Driving over bumpy dirt roads, her team was organizing the rebuilding of village homes and schools in the destroyed area of Borodyanka outside Kyiv, working with teachers and locals and providing funds for contractors.

I recently contacted another TrustChain team leader, Alena Prizhebolska, in Odesa, who was a real estate agent before the war. Now she runs a small local nongovernmental organization called Virgo.

Alena spoke by Zoom from a downtown café that had a generator and internet because Russian missiles had knocked out all the power in the city.

Earlier this month, she and several volunteers drove in a caravan bringing food, medicine and blankets to newly liberated villages near Kherson — an area still under frequent Russian shelling.

“People brought their own cars,” Alena told me, “but you have to follow special paths and never touch the side of the road because the Russians mined 70% of the region. Once we passed a volunteer car that had been blown up by a mine and no one survived.”

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Yet her volunteer team — including a lawyer, a sales manager, some railroad workers, furniture movers and her husband — persists, because they “just want to help.” Many of them, like Alena, previously fled the eastern city of Donetsk, which Russia invaded in 2014. “They personally know the pain of occupation,” she said.

When the caravan passed destroyed villages with no stores open, it stopped to make deliveries to survivors who were emerging from basements. Then it visited outlying areas of liberated Kherson city to make individual deliveries to the disabled, elderly, or orphans who were afraid to evacuate because of the continued shelling. Local contacts give lists of the needy to Alena’s volunteers.

The Ukraine TrustChain funds “are the most important help we receive,” Alena told me. On its next trips to the Kherson area, the team hopes to take small generators to two villages so isolated residents can charge their phones and communicate with relatives, and kids can charge tablets and continue schooling.

This brave spirit, in the midst of such hardship, deserves Americans’ support.

So does a new project run by Ukraine House in Washington, D.C., called Unbreakable (ukrainehouse.us/projects), to bring Ukrainian children who have lost limbs to the United States to undergo treatment and get fitted for prosthetics.

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Among the first four to arrive were 11-year-old Yana Stepanenko, who lost both legs when Russian missiles destroyed the Kramatorsk railway station in April, along with her mother, Natasha, who lost her left leg, and 9-year-old Sasha Filipchuk, who lost an arm when Russian soldiers fired into her family’s fleeing car. Her mother had to hide for three days in a nearby basement with a bleeding Sasha, until volunteers helped them escape.

And then there is 16-year-old Ivan Chaban, who lost a leg when a Russian tank rolled over his family near Sumy. The tank killed his stepfather and wounded his mother. As this project is new, Ukraine House’s administrative director suggests that, rather than donate online to the overall site, donors write a check to Ukraine House/Unbreakable and send it to Ukraine House, 2134 Kalorama Rd., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20008.

Finally, for those who want to help Ukraine’s military wounded, Revived Soldiers of Ukraine (rsukraine.org) aids them at home, and brings some to the U.S. to be fitted for prosthetics. I interviewed one such soldier — brought to Philadelphia for treatment — who lost an arm and a leg defending Mariupol, and was tortured by Russians while a POW in a Russian hospital.

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Such stories make clear why Americans should help the people of Ukraine.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the The Philadelphia Inquirer. This commentary is the columnist's opinion. Send feedback to: opinion@wctrib.com.

©2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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